How to help a loved one struggling with mental health issues

How to help a loved one struggling with mental health issues

What is mental distress?

A person is suffering from mental distress when they show signs of stress and anxiety following one or several life events, without ever having been diagnosed with mental illness.

The warning signs

The symptoms of mental distress fall into 4 categories:

  • Physical
  • Cognitive
  • Emotional
  • Behavioural

For a person to be considered afflicted by mental distress, the symptoms must have been present for at least 2 weeks. You will notice a change in the person’s behaviour; they will not act like they normally do. In fact, you may even feel like you don’t know this person anymore.

These are symptoms to look out for:

Physical Cognitive Emotional Behavioural
  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Back pain
  • Headaches
  • Chest or stomach pain
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Muscular pain
  • Insomnia
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Concentration and memory lapses
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Aggression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Quarrelsome
  • Mood swings
  • Isolation
  • Uncompromising
  • Passive
  • Drinks too much coffee/alcohol, takes drugs or medication

The better you are at spotting the warning signs of mental distress, the easier it will be to support the loved one who is suffering from it.

Mental distress is not to be taken lightly. If left untreated or improperly treated, the person could spiral into a state of mental illness and have serious rehabilitation problems.

Your attitude counts a lot

For a loved one to be able to admit they have a mental problem, they must first feel that they can trust you.

This means waiting for the right place and time to start up a conversation. Make sure they are not busy. Otherwise, they won’t be able to concentrate.

Open communication lines

Always speak in the first person. That way, you won’t be perceived as being judgemental or critical.

Get straight to the point and tell them that you’re worried about their well-being by giving examples of their change in behaviour. Don’t beat around the bush – ask them what’s wrong.

Listen attentively

An attentive ear is key.

Even if you want answers, don’t interject during pauses, ramblings or emotional outbursts.

By accepting to be their confidant, you’ll encourage them to freely express themselves, which is not always easy.

Be open-minded

You may hear things that will shock and upset you. Stay calm and forget your personal ideologies.

The important thing is to never downplay what the other person is feeling (especially if they have suicidal thoughts) or scold them by saying things like: Get yourself together! There are people way worse off than you!

Everyone reacts differently to situations and you must respect that.

Break the isolation

Mental distress leads to isolation and solitude.

Keep in mind that mental illness remains a taboo, even today.

By supporting  your loved one, you will help them break this vicious cycle and take a step toward recovery.

Reassure them. Tell them that they are not alone and that they can count on you. Being supportive is vital in this situation.

OK, now what?

Don’t play doctor

Regardless of what the person is suffering from, don’t pretend to be a psychologist. It takes years of study and experience to help people with mental problems.

This is especially true for those who have suicidal tendencies. Make sure they get professional help.

Mental health professionals have the emotional detachment needed to help your loved one, which is something you don’t have.

Your role is to urge a loved one to get competent help as well as help them find it.

And what if the employer could help?

Most group insurance plans provide access to Employee Assistance Programs for these types of situations.

Tell your loved one to speak to an HR agent to find out if such a program is available. Remember that all requests remain confidential.

211… A number to remember

To find out which organization is best suited to help your loved one, tell them to call 211.

This is a free consultation service that will help you identify the organization based on your loved one’s affliction.

This service is available every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Don’t back down

The closer you are to this person, the more likely you are to suffer, albeit indirectly, from their mental distress.

Always respect your limits and express them openly.

Yes, you want to help, but you don’t want to end up suffering from mental distress yourself. You have to take care of yourself too.