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Mental Health Awareness Week

By Anthony Mayatt, May 10 2017 02:40PM

So this week is Mental Health Awareness Week, and my thoughts have been turning to those of us, probably all of us, who have found ourselves trying to support somebody we care about deeply who isn’t in the greatest of places.

First up is trying to listen. This isn’t easy, at all, especially if you care about somebody – that isn’t to say as a therapist I don’t care about my clients, but being a step removed allows me more flexibility to not offer a counterjudgement based on my experience of their world. If you know somebody isn’t really enjoying life, then maybe try and be flexible around what you expect of them, and what you offer them. If your partner is feeling depressed, then simple tasks such as doing the washing, or going to see your parents may be beyond what they feel comfortable doing. Try and be kind, and not take things to heart as a rejection of you, just a rejection of the request.

There can be signs, easily missed, that somebody could be struggling. It may be the stereotyped looking and sounding unhappy, but it could equally be if somebody is suddenly happy all the time, or somebody relentlessly using humor. If you have a question mark, just ask. One of the biggest myths around suicide (and yes, I’ve jumped to the end of a spectrum there) is that by asking somebody you can implant the idea. This is utter nonsense, and similarly, if you ask somebody if they’re feeling sad/unhappy/anything else, you’re modelling it’s ok to feel that.

It can be important to encourage your loved one to reach out for help. That may be via their GP, a therapist or via a charity such as your local Mind which likely offers support groups. Irrespective of whoever is plumped for, I’d really encourage anybody and everybody to try multiple routes. GP’s will, possibly, offer medication, which can at least prompt an interesting discussion, but may not be a preferred route. If your loved one decides on therapy, maybe offer to go with them, wait and get a coffee and pick them up to show you’re there to help, but without asking for details unless they’re volunteered. A great way of support may be to do the research, there are a lot of us out there, and make some suggestions having read a few people’s websites.

A key part of trying to support somebody is looking at your own mental health (and indeed physical health). The idea that you can’t pour as easily from a half empty jug springs to mind, and in that I mean making sure you take time out for yourself. Let’s say your partner has been diagnosed with depression; being there for them doesn’t have to mean, in fact really shouldn’t mean, being there for them twenty four seven. That’s not feasible, and is in part why if you see a therapist like myself, we set clear boundaries. Also, I’d really encourage everybody to not promise confidentiality, as this can be a huge burden to carry. Again, as a therapist I offer this after many years of training, and hundreds of hours of my own therapy, but also as I have a supervisor who give me space to process anything that’s triggered – unless you have similar support, don’t promise more than you can carry.

Ultimately if you think somebody close to you may not be in a great place, ask them, directly, and try and be supportive and understanding. Encourage them to get other help, and disclose how they’re feeling to others, whether that’s other friends or professionals, and make sure you look after yourself.

Ben Scanlan

Psychotherapist and Counsellor

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