Constructive ways to support someone with depression or anxiety (or both)

That someone you know will face a mental health challenge is unquestionable. It’s a cold, hard fact. Australian national charity SANE says 1 in 5 Australians are experiencing a mental health issue: around 14% dealing with anxiety, and 6% battling depression. 1 in 5!

Only half of these people will seek or receive the treatment needed to recover. In Australia, suicide is the major cause of death of people between 15 and 44 years of age. 2,500 people in Australia take their own lives each year; that’s around 7 per day. Globally, the World Health Organisation says more people die each year from suicide than in all armed conflicts combined, and more than in traffic accidents.

Since sharing my own battle a little while ago, it’s been suggested I could share some thoughts on how to constructively support someone with a mental health challenge. I think that’s a marvellous idea, and to be honest, something I’d overlooked as being helpful. Great suggestion.

A whole bunch of different resources and lists offer a range of suggestions, which I won’t reproduce or collate. Instead, what I share here are some things that I have responded to or needed, and offered to others I’ve supported over the years.

Tell them you care.
It’s a simple thing to say, but it’s so easily forgotten and can be assumed as understood without needing to be said. But when you’re flat as a tack and fairly certain your family and friends are better off without you around, hearing people say they care is so powerful. The point need not be laboured, and you don’t need to blow smoke up someone’s backside.

AFL footballer Mitch Clark, an open depression sufferer, is a proponent of telling people they are loved. He writes and posts photographs with the hashtag #youareloved and reminds himself of this frequently. We are all loved by someone, though at times it feels very much like we’re either alone or a drag on other people’s happiness. That can cripple and eat away at your mind and your soul, so simply telling someone, “Hey, you are important and I care about you” is a great way to have a positive impact.

Make a small gesture.
If talking isn’t comfortable, or even if it is, a very small gesture to show support can also be an amazing show of love. It need not be big at all:

  • Send a text message simply saying you’re around when they need you for anything at all (not if, because “here if you need me” has almost become a meaningless cliche)
  • Send a card that shares a happy memory you have together (these aren’t at easy recall for someone depressed or anxious, so prompted recall is necessary)
  • Arrange a healthy meal or edible goods that are important people consume and are often a huge undertaking for someone battling with their mental health. Drop off some soup, a plate of meat & veg, or have a meals on wheels thing delivered one day.
  • Suggest something you could do together like have a cup of tea or coffee, or watch a movie, or walk around the block, etc. Be present in a calm and non-imposing way.

Be patient and tolerant.
When you hate yourself and feel inadequate as a person and are so fragile that burning toast or a patch of drizzle can turn your head into a self-destructive cannon, you need people around who are patient with you.

Being told to ‘cheer up’ or ‘keep busy’ doesn’t help, even when it’s well-intended and coming from a place of support. Uninvited advice and guidance can be received as criticism by someone with a mental health issue, even though it’s most likely not.

“You’re important to me and I want to help you” is perfect. Open up a conversation and let it go where it goes, and reinforce the point with warmth. Helping someone to work through and hopefully recover is as much about empowering them and fostering their self-reliance as it is being there for them. Walk beside them, figuratively speaking, rather than in front.

Patience and tolerance are essential, especially when you most want to tell them to “snap out of it” or “look at what you’ve got, you should be happy”. This is destructive.No matter how much you might believe it, you’re essentially putting a bullet in the chamber, and the other person may be so brittle they pull the trigger.

Be patient, be tolerant, and don’t push anything. Warmth and love are the best things you can offer someone with a mental health issue. 

Shine on, beautiful diamonds xx

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