A question I often get asked is “how can I spot if someone has a mental health problem, and what can I do to help?”. To which I reply:
The key thing to be looking out for is changes in behaviour. If you know this person fairly well, you should have a reasonable understanding of what their personality is like. So if they suddenly start acting in a way that is contradictory to their usual disposition, you can use this as a good indication that all is not well.
There’s a variety of different ways people behave when they’re experiencing mental health problems, but the top 3 to look out for are:
- Suddenly seeming tired all the time; persistent fatigue
- Isolating themselves; not wanting to see friends
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies previously enjoyed
It’s fairly normal to experience these things at some point in your life (more so if you’re a teenager!). However, what differentiates a mental health issue from “normal” human emotion is the length of time it persists. Most mental health organisations advise that if someone has been experiencing these symptoms for longer than 2 weeks, then they could be having mental health problems. It’s important to take action as soon as possible as prevention is often easier than the cure.
So what can you do to help? Well first of all…..
1) Ask them – But be careful!
How you approach someone will directly impact the extent to which they will confide in you. A relaxed approach tends to yield better results compared to a direct approach. Try to establish a rapport with them first before addressing anything mental health related.
If you do suspect something is wrong, try to resist the urge to label it straight away. Instead, ask questions: “You seem a bit tired today”, ”I feel like you’ve been a bit distant lately”, “Is everything ok?” People often internalise their emotions (especially men!) and are not very open about how they’re feeling so try to read between the lines and make your own assessment.
2) Recommend they pay a visit to their GP
The next step is to get them to book an appointment with their GP, where they will receive an assessment and based on the results, be prescribed either one or both of the following: Talking therapy (typically counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy). Medication (usually a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or SSRI for short).
3) Be there for them
Finally, and most importantly, be a friend! It’s not going to be easy; there will be times during their recovery where you’ll find yourself getting angry or frustrated at them. But accepting that it’s not their fault, reminding yourself that it’s just an illness, and continuing to provide love and support, is essential for a speedy recovery.