Support Someone

Learning a few things about mental health problems might help you be more kind and to feel more confident to talk and listen.

I haven’t heard from them in ages

It’s possible that someone experiencing a mental health problem might isolate themselves. Having a mental health problem can be really draining, and low moods or anxious feelings can make it tough to be sociable - they may also feel like their presence places a burden on their friends and family.

  • Stay in contact and be yourself
  • It might feel frustrating if you’re putting in effort, but try and be patient – things are probably hard for them.
  • They probably appreciate you being in touch even if they’re not responding – a mental health problem can be overwhelming and can make it difficult to maintain a ‘normal’ social life.

It could be nothing, but if they are hard to reach, it might be a sign that they’re not well so stay in touch.

Their appearance has changed / they’re not looking after themselves

Sometimes the impact of a mental health problem, combined with other pressures in life, can be too much for someone, and they might neglect to look after their appearance or body. 
Maybe they’re not eating well, or they’re not keeping up with personal hygiene.

  • Ask them how things are going
  • Listen, don’t judge
  • If they’re feeling overwhelmed, you might be able to help them with particular tasks they can’t do. If it feels right, ask if there’s anything you can help with.

If they are going through a hard time, your attitude can make a huge difference.

They are using social media differently

You might have noticed a change in the way someone is using social media. For example, they might be posting way more or may have gone completely silent. It could be nothing, but it could also be a sign that they’re experiencing a mental health problem. Either way, they may well need your support.

  • Keep a close eye out for subtle changes in their language or the way they are using their social media pages i.e. posting cries for help or cryptic messages
  • If you are still worried, send them a private message to ask how they are doing – they are more likely to respond to this than a public message.
  • If they’ve completely disappeared from social media, try to get in touch by other means or contact their friends & family.

If someone is going through a tough time, stepping in and showing you care could make all the difference.

They might be self-harming

There are a lot of myths and false beliefs around self-harm that can stop people reaching out for support. Not everyone who self-harms has the same experience, but often it is a way to cope with severe and real emotional pain. Your friend may need your support now more than ever.

  • If someone opens up to you about self-harm, try not to panic or show judgement. It can be a hard thing to talk about, and your reaction might have an impact on their willingness to talk about it in future.
  • Listen to what they’re saying and let them know you’re there for them
  • If they’re open to it, talk to them about the feelings that are driving the self-harm, and if it feels appropriate, encourage them to seek help.
  • Self-harm is not the same as attempted suicide, but someone who is self-harming is at increased risk of suicide – the only way to know is to ask.

They seem distracted or absent

Someone might seem more distant or distracted than usual. It could be nothing, but there might be something more serious on their mind. Either way, try not to take offence, as they may well need your support.

  • Be patient, talk about everyday things, and don’t change how you act around them
  • Don’t assume that it’s a problem with you and take offence.
  • You could ask them about what’s on their mind.

If your friend is acting differently, don’t shy away from it. They might need a friend more than ever.

They’re saying unsettling things

Some people with a mental health problem may experience disordered thoughts or hallucinations. You might have noticed a friend having difficulty thinking, expressing unusual beliefs, or perceiving that things have changed around them. These could be early signs of psychosis, which sounds scary - but you can help them, by listening and helping them seek professional support should they need it.

  • Try not to dismiss what they’re saying or doing: it feels real for your friend, so don’t make them feel stupid or lesser.
  • At the same time, don’t encourage delusions, or agree that you also see or hear something that isn’t there.
  • This might be a bit unsettling for you, so reach out to talk to someone if you need to.

You can be the difference to someone experiencing psychosis. No matter how daunting it may seem, it’s scarier for them – listen, and don’t shy away from it.

They’ve mentioned taking their own life

Talking about suicidal feelings can save lives, so always take it seriously if someone opens up to you. Asking them about suicidal feelings won’t increase their risk of taking their own life - instead, it will show them someone cares, and give them an opportunity to talk through their problems.

  • Don’t shy away from the topic. Ask how they’re doing, and if they’re being cryptic, try to help them explain
  • Try not to be judgmental or dismissive in response to what they’ve said
  • If the person needs further support that you can’t provide, contact us at (Country Link) in Kenya and (MHU) in Uganda we will do our best to help

While it can seem scary, taking the time to allow someone to speak about how they’re feeling can be a huge help.

They’ve told me they’re not doing well

Firstly, it’s good they have opened up to you - it lets you know that they trust you, and you’ve created space for them to talk about what’s happening. There are some straightforward things you can do to help.

  • You don’t have to fix it, but being there will help them. Ask them if there’s anything specific that you could do.
  • Don’t treat them differently – keep doing the things you’d normally do together.
  • It might help you to find out more about their condition, if they mentioned one.

How you respond when someone opens up to you about their mental health can change their life. Be there for them.