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How Do I Support My Friend Suffering From Mental Health Issues To Seek Help

Six Tips for You to Help Them: Active Listening is Most Important

Hong Kong Department of Health reported that 3 out of 100 adults suffer from depression. Depression is one of the common leading causes of suicide, however, over half of the depression sufferers do not seek help from mental health services. If someone close to you experiences emotional distress, whether he or she is suffering from depression, anxiety, psychosis or bipolar disorder, as a caregiver, we should try to find means to help them recover.

Depression and anxiety are the two most commonly experienced mental health disorders. Common ailments such as insomnia and irritable bowel syndrome can trigger emotional imbalance. If not addressed promptly, such imbalance can lead to depression and anxiety. Depression and anxiety can be treated with psychotherapy. More severe clinical diagnoses, such as psychosis or bipolar disorder, will require medication to manage these conditions.

Many sufferers of emotional issues may not admit to their struggles, let alone taking initiative to seek medical or professional help. Some of them may think that they can control their emotions as they have professional knowledge or  strong will (e.g. medical professionals or high-salaried professionals such as lawyers, bankers). Therefore, they are unwilling to seek help from others. Some sufferers have little trust in others, hence are not willing to open up to people they are not close to. Also, some may find it difficult to step out of their homes. In sum, there are various reasons why sufferers to do not seek mental health services, as such, their condition worsens by the day. 

Teach Caregivers the Right Techniques

A caregiver can approach a professional counsellor to learn how to effectively support a sufferer into accepting help from mental health services. The counsellor can also train the caregiver in caring for the sufferer. Our counsellors from The Companions have summed up six tips (see below) that caregivers can adopt to help their loved ones.

1 Find an appropriate opportunity to discuss

If you notice that a loved one is showing unusual behaviours (e.g., dramatic mood changes, becoming socially withdrawn, experiencing sleeplessness, having bizarre thinking etc.,), try to talk to him or her to get a better understanding of the situation. Create a safe environment to talk and avoid bringing up the topic during mealtimes with others around. You may want to first schedule a time with him or her. During the conversation, avoid an “I think you have a problem” attitude. Instead, you can start the conversation with an “I feel a little uncomfortable lately…” approach.

2 Establish a Benchmark

Ask yourself how important is this person to you, how much time and financial resources are you willing to spend.

3 Establish a Support Network

Identify if there are people around you who can also provide support, such as family members, friends, church members, etc. Work with them to help the sufferer. Remind them to be discreet and share effective conversational techniques with them.

4 Active Listening is the Most Important Conversational Skill

Listening attentively is most important when the sufferer is sharing his or her feelings and thoughts. During the conversation, you may find that their thoughts does not make sense. Instead of giving personal opinons or “correcting” their thoughts, try to understand him or her empathetically. For instance, if he or she says: “I saw Guan Gong (God of War) appeared in front of me, it was scary.” There is no need to argue about the truth of what he or she has seen, but acknowledge his or her fear. Also, note that it may make depression sufferers feel worse when they hear positive encouragement such as “Tomorrow will be a better day”, “You will be fine after a good sleep”, “Keep going”, etc. Do not overlook hints or signs indicating that a depression sufferer has thought of and is planning for suicide. Other than watching over them and seeking professional help as soon as possible, you can show care and concern. From your conversations, identify what the sufferer wishes to do and his or her concerns. This will also be helpful.

5 Motivate Them

Go on walks with them, encourage them to listen to music, let them enjoy their favourite desserts etc., to increase their motivation.

6 Do Not Forget About Yourself

Caregivers may experienced caregiver burnout and forget about their own needs. Do remember, when appropriate, give yourself space and time to recharge.

When Facing Difficulties While Caring for Mental Health or Emotional Disorders Sufferers:

  1. Assess if you have family, friends or other alternatives who can provide support
  2. Be mindful of your health and emotions
  3. Set aside time to rest
  4. Reflect if you are facing any other difficulties 
  5. Seek professional help to learn how to manage

The Companions
Chloe Cheung