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Supporting Someone Through Tough Times: A Guide to Meaningful Conversations

Have you ever noticed a friend, family member, or colleague going through a rough patch? Perhaps they’ve been acting differently or confided in you that they’re not feeling their best. It’s important to remember that mental health challenges are incredibly common, with nearly half of us experiencing them at some point in our lives. This means that someone close to you has likely faced their own mental health struggles.

Many individuals turn to their friends and family for support before seeking professional help. Have you ever found yourself wanting to be there for someone but unsure about how to approach the situation? If you’ve ever wondered, “What should I say?” or “How can I help?” – you’re not alone.

Conversations about mental health can be challenging, but they are crucial for supporting the people we care about. Here are four steps to guide you in providing meaningful support to your loved ones.

Prepare

Before reaching out to a struggling loved one, take a moment to prepare yourself. Check in with your own emotional state – are you in a good place to provide support? These conversations can be time-consuming, so ensure you have enough time to listen actively. Be ready for various reactions, including the possibility that they may not want to talk at that moment. Always respect their decision.

Additionally, choose a comfortable and safe setting for your conversation, free from distractions. You can even schedule a time to chat with them, giving both parties the opportunity to prepare mentally.

Ask

Begin the conversation by genuinely inquiring about your friend’s well-being. Keep in mind that people often respond with simple answers like “I’m okay” or “I’m fine.” To truly understand how they are feeling, consider asking twice. You might say, “Are you sure you’re okay? I’ve noticed…” This opens the door for them to share their true emotions.

Listen Without Judgment

One common concern is saying the wrong thing during these conversations. However, the most valuable thing you can offer is a listening ear. You don’t need to have all the answers or solve their problems. In fact, most of us tend to jump to problem-solving too quickly instead of simply being there for them.

Show that you are listening by summarizing what they say, using statements like “It sounds like…” or “I can hear that you’re really struggling.” Empathize and validate their feelings with statements such as “I can’t imagine what you’ve been going through.” If you’re unsure of how to continue, open-ended questions can encourage them to share more, such as “Tell me more about that” or “What has this experience been like for you?”

Offer Support

Remember, your role is not to solve their problems but to explore support options together. You can ask questions like “What has helped you in the past?” or “What do you need right now?” This empowers your loved one to make decisions about their own well-being. Collaborate on the best course of action based on their preferences and needs.

Being a supportive presence also involves checking in with them later. Let them know you’re available for further discussions. This communicates your genuine care and willingness to support them throughout their journey.

Lastly, remember that you don’t have to be perfect in these conversations – perfection is impossible for anyone. If you make a mistake, it’s okay to acknowledge it. Simply express that you’re not sure what to say but that you’re there for them, regardless.

If you or someone you know would like to speak to a psychologist, we’re here to help. For an appointment ring us on 02 4244 5636.

 

In case of an emergency, please call triple zero (000).

Helplines – 24 hours/7 days a week

Lifeline – Ph:13 11 14 or text 0477 13 11 14.

Suicide Call Back Service – PH: 1300 659 467

MensLine Australia – Ph: 1300 78 99 78

Kids Helpline – Ph: 1800 55 1800.

Written by Dominic Fernandez

Dom is a provisional psychologist in the final year of his PhD in Clinical Psychology at the University of Wollongong. He has experience providing clinical assessment and treatment to children, adolescents, and adults.

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