Many people find it challenging to talk about how they feel. While this may be for a variety of reasons, the fact that they may have difficulty ‘opening up’ can ultimately can affect their mental health.
At some point in our lives most of us will experience strong feeling like stress, grief, relationship difficulty, depression, anxiety, etc. For many, those feelings will come and go. For others, though, it can be more long-term, so much so that it adversely begins to affect their mental health and wellbeing.
When a friend or loved one experiences these feelings but doesn’t seem to have a way to talk about it, we may find ourselves in a situation where we are the person who reaches out to them.
So how and when is it best to reach out to someone who may need our help?
When should I reach out?
Changes in behaviour are a strong indicator that someone is experiencing difficulties. If you think that’s the case, then actively engage, rather than waiting for them to approach you. Some people may be reluctant to seek out help or show that they are vulnerable.
Some signs of changed behaviour to look for include:
- What they are saying. e.g., “I feel as though I can’t go on”; “I have had enough”; “What’s the point of all this”; “Things are not good”, etc
- You may notice that they are becoming aggressive over small issues. In other words, they are overreacting to a situation
- They start taking increased risks
- They withdraw from social situations and activities that they used to enjoy
- Having physical reactions to stress such as crying
- Speaking incoherently and not processing information
- Change in appetite
- Sleeping too much or too little.
What to do when reaching out
In reaching out to someone and engaging their trust, it is important to:
- Listen actively and ask questions
- Show empathy
- Be authentic and genuine.
What not to do when reaching out
- Don’t interrogate or demand disclosure
- No matter what they say, don’t judge or criticise
- Don’t breach confidentiality (unless there is a clear risk of harm to self or others).
Role clarity: Understand and be clear about your role and the relationship between you and the person. You are not a counsellor or therapist.
Timing the approach: Choose an appropriate opportunity to raise concerns. For example, pick a time when no one can overhear your conversation.
Be concrete in your observations: Be careful to avoid making personal interpretation/judgements about what might be happening. E.g. “I have noticed that you have not been joining activities like you used to. I am wondering if there is anything bothering you?”
Acknowledge: If the person discloses or you become aware that something has happened in their life, acknowledge the likely emotional impact on them. E.g. “That is a significant event, you must be feeling … distress, confusion, sadness, anger, etc.”
Normalise: Let them know that their response to stressful situations is normal. It may help to point out that they are not alone in feeling this way.
Be genuine: You must be authentic in your concern and support – people will know when you are not real and you are just going through the motions.
Check your hunches: Don’t be afraid to ask the “suicide” question. Naming and breaking the silence can help to contain the situation. Talking to someone about such suicide can be difficult, so you may want to check out our suicide prevention pages for information and tips on how to start a conversation.
Resources and supports: Check out (while remaining discreet and sensitive) what support is available to the person your are reaching out to. It may be family, friends, doctor, etc. You may be able to assist the person to reach out for the help they need.
Need help? You can find support services in northern Queensland or complete a self-administered K10 test for depression and anxiety. You can also join the online social and mental health forum to talk with like-minded people.