When the conversation finds its way to a closing point and you’ve listened to what they have been struggling with, it is your opportunity to suggest seeking supports like a counsellor — or in the case of a youth, a trusted adult who can assist.
It may be obvious in some conversations that further support is needed, but others may not. Part of normalizing the conversation around mental health and reducing stigma is realizing and championing the idea that mental health supports are there for everyone. At some point in our lives, most of us will experience a mental health challenge that would be easier to deal with if we had professional support.
Though it is sometimes hard to recommend professional help to a friend or family member, it is important to help them take this step so they can get the support they need. Some examples of ways to say this are:
‘Have you thought about booking an appointment with a counsellor?’
‘What do you think the next steps in getting some support would be?’
Sharing your own experience seeking out and engaging support is also very powerful in helping people feel comfortable taking the step themselves. But know that someone may not be ready or comfortable enough to engage professional support, and it is not your place to force it on them. Allow them space to make their own decisions, but let them know you are there to help when and if they decide to take the next step. This may take some time – don’t get discouraged and don’t give up on them.
When dealing with mental health, earlier is always better. If the person you are supporting expresses that they would like to move forward with professional support, make a plan around:
It can be confusing and intimidating to reach out for help, which is why it is so important to create a plan with them and help them stick to it. Always follow through on any agreements you’ve made regarding the plan, as this is an area where trust can easily be broken.
If you are supporting a youth, encourage them to talk to a trusted adult for any of these steps that feel out of reach or uncomfortable.
Whether they decide to seek help or not, continue to check back in. Do your best to get permission from them to check back in, and maybe set a time or date. It can help the individual struggling to know they have a conversation coming up. Keep an eye on their behaviour and ask questions about how they have been doing since your last conversation. You may notice they are better every time you talk. You may also notice that they are doing worse, at which point it may be time to suggest again that they seek out a professional.
Your interactions shouldn’t always be around support and mental health. A large part of getting through struggles in life is having regular human connections - go for walks, watch movies, have conversations, share meals.
There are no hard and fast rules to how these conversations will go. Everyone is unique, and so are the situations they find themselves in. What is important is that at the end of the conversation, they know you will be there to support them when they need you.
Thank them for trusting you enough to share with you and ask permission to check back in on them if appropriate. Recognize that being a support to someone can take a lot of energy, especially if the conversation was emotionally intense. Support does not equal responsibility. It is important to be there for people, but there is only so much you can do. Consider providing yourself some self-care time after intense conversations – journal, go for a walk, meditate. It is important to protect your energy when supporting others.