Yes Absolutely. And yes you need to know where and how.
Awareness regarding mental health need not be just restricted to the mental health day. Awareness about mental health, seeking required support and help for facing a specific challenge, providing support, are not just relevant for the person facing the challenge, not just for the mental health professionals – be it therapists, counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists but also for every individual.
Mental health is a continuum. We are all at different points of the mental health continuum over our life time. We go back and forth in terms where we are in the continuum, depending on our life situations, physical conditions, how we deal and cope with them.
If I were to put a scale for Mental health continuum it would look like this.
In our everyday life we do interact and come across a whole variety of people including our friends, colleagues, neighbours etc. Each person has a whole variety of complex circumstances that each one of them is dealing with, coping with, navigating through. Given this reality, if we can be a bit aware and sensitive towards the person and what they are going through, it can enhance their resilience, enhance their coping mechanisms and enable them to handle their situations in a better manner.
In today’s world where there is so much social networking happening, it is an irony that people are feeling less cared for and more lonely.
I know – the next question in your mind is – I am not a trained in this. I don’t know much about psychology etc. What can I do here?
Answer is you can do a lot, in most of the circumstances.
Yes, if the person is in an emergency situation – is suicidal or is harming themselves or have a significant mental health issue, then it is important for them to get support with a mental health practitioner. In this regard you can support them by telling them and convince them to see a professional. Despite your support still they are unable to deal or cope with their situation and it is worsening, then they can see a professional counsellor or a therapist.
In other situations, to provide emotional support and listening you need not be a therapist or trained counsellor.
What can a person do?
- Tell them that you noticed them being disturbed and ask them if they would like to talk to you.
- If they talk to you, listen to them actively, provide for a safe space for them to talk to you, share with you, if they are comfortable with you.
- Don’t judge them for what is being shared with you.
- You also need to ensure that this doesn’t become part of your conversations with others – maintain confidentiality.
- Be gentle and polite with them. Acknowledge their pain.
- If they are not willing to talk to you or uncomfortable, let them be. Know your boundaries. Don’t push.
What shouldn’t you do?
- Do not apply the situation to yourself thinking if I were in that situation, what I would do. Remember the focus is on the other person and you’re just listening to them.
- Don’t tell them it is a small problem, why they have to make a big deal out of it – essentially – Don’t invalidate their emotions and pain.
- You don’t and can’t solve their problems or take up the mantle of solving it either.
- Don’t take up their emotions and problems on your shoulders. If you think you get affected too much by their pain, don’t do it.
- You don’t have to feel guilty that you are not able to solve the other person’s problems either. If that happens, don’t do it.
Most of the times, if you are able to provide this level of support to the person, it should be sufficient for them to regain their strength and take relevant action to deal with their situation.
By just being heard, can improve their state of mind and it could enable them to feel supported to be able to sort out their situation.
There could be some instances when you might have heard about your friends your colleagues feeling down, saying it’s not worth living, feeling I need to not live in this situation etc. These are the situations where you need to keep your eyes and your ears open and see whether you can provide some space for them to talk and listen to them, so that their emotional state doesn’t deteriorate from where it is.
Yes if the situation deteriorates or is critical, if you think that the person is suicidal, if you know the person is considering suicide very seriously, or there is a significant self-harm happening, they need to see a doctor or a therapist at the earliest. You can use your comfort with that person to recommend that.
Remember – your own state of health physically or emotionally should not get affected or deteriorated. You need to ensure you are in a fairly good state of mind and health to provide support for others.