How is your mental health? As we approach Stress Awareness Month in April, it’s a pertinent time to consider our own wellbeing and also, the wellbeing of others. Many mental health problems are stress related and can impact your personality, energy levels, outlook and your physical health. Poor mental health isn’t rare. In fact, one in four people in the UK have been affected by mental health at some point in their lives. According to the NHS, “mental health is about how we think, feel, and behave” and it can take many different forms.
People who are facing high levels of stress at home, in the workplace or in other areas of their life, may feel it straining on their mental health, often resulting in them feeling isolated, misunderstood and anxious. In many cases, they will struggle to reach out to loved ones or professionals in order to address the problem. So, why not reach out to someone during Stress Awareness Month? It could make the world of difference to their wellbeing and help them feel supported. Read on to find out how best to approach the subject.
1. Look out for the signs
As previously stated, a friend or family member with mental health difficulties is likely to feel isolated. They may not come to you directly to discuss mental health issues, so you should try and be on the lookout for some tell-tale signs. These signs can include:
- Low confidence
- Lack of social interest
- Lack of appetite
- Obsessive behaviour
- Panic attacks
- Getting tearful on a regular basis
Of course, mental health has many facets, and these are tell-tale signs to a few different problems. But, if a loved on is showing any of these signs then it is worth reaching out and offering your support.
2. Check in on them
Once you’ve identified a problem, or you know someone has been vulnerable to mental health issues in the past, checking in on them is of the utmost importance. Some people can put up a front and may seem perfectly fine on the surface. However, anyone could be struggling, even if they are smiling through it. Take your friend out for a coffee or send your relative a mindfulness card to let them know that you’re thinking of them. Not only will this action alone make them feel seen, but it will give them an opportunity to open up in a safe and comfortable space.
When checking in on a friend about mental health, the location you choose is important. Make sure you choose a peaceful place to have the conversation, with few distractions so that they feel comfortable and focussed. Remember, you are not a doctor, so don’t try and diagnose them. Primarily, you are there to listen and comfort rather than to offer medical advice. Keep your questions open ended and try not to second guess their answers. Another useful approach is to repeat their answers back to them so that they feel confident that you are giving them your full attention and understanding them.
Once they have shared their experience with you, open up the conversation about wellbeing and mindfulness. Let them know that you’ll be right there with them every step of the way and that you’ll support them in any lifestyle changes they want to make.
If the problem feels out of your hands, encourage your loved one to seek medical advice. Offer help in finding professional support or direct them towards a helpline such as the Samaritans.
3. Send a mindfulness card
Although a text message is an easy and quick way to check up on someone, a card would be much more thoughtful. Many UK greeting card manufacturers offer a selection of cards that have been specifically designed around mindfulness practices and mental wellbeing. Choosing one of these rather than sending a quick text will show your loved one that you’ve really been thinking about them. Furthermore, a handwritten message triggers a stronger emotional response than a text or online message. It could make the world of difference to someone who is going through a difficult period.
4. Help them practice mindfulness
Sending a card or practicing mindfulness may not be automatic ‘fixes’ for mental health problems, but they can both play big parts in maintaining wellbeing. Mindfulness is officially defined as a “quality or state of being conscious or aware of something” and mindfulness practice revolves around gaining greater control over your emotions. The practice is rooted in Buddhist philosophies and has helped many people manage mental help difficulties through fitting simple routines into their day. You can practice mindfulness by:
- Slowing down
- Taking notice of the little things
- Practicing deep breathing exercises
- Trying meditation, yoga, or Tai Chi
- Downloading a mindfulness app to help you work out a routine that works for you
By practicing mindfulness with a loved one who is struggling with mental health issues, you will not only make them feel supported, but also keeping on top of your own mental wellbeing. Looking after your own mental health is of vital importance if you want to support a loved one. As the analogy goes, you have to attach your own oxygen mask before you can start helping others with theirs. You can help build a more robust support system on strong and healthy foundations, so don’t neglect your own mental health in place of others’.
5. Raise awareness
A final way that you can show solidarity and support on World Mental Health Day is by raising awareness. Be loud and proud about your support, and make sure others know how best to assist their friends and relatives. Even today in 2019, there is a lot of stigma surrounding mental health, so tackle that head-on by talking about it. Perhaps you have a sceptical family member, or a friend who hasn’t read-up on the issue? Next time you see them, try not to shy aware from the topic — the more people engaged in the conversation this World Mental Health Day the better.
For any further advice or support, call the Samaritans helpline for free: 116 123 or email [email protected] (response time: 24 hours).