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How can I help someone I am concerned about?

Are you currently concerned about the mental health of a friend, family member or co-worker?

We've put together some simple advice based on the mental health first aid guidelines, so you can take supportive action and help someone you are concerned about.

You may have been asking yourself, how can I approach someone with depression? Maybe you are worried that friend who is struggling with anxiety and you are not sure how you can be supportive? Or perhaps you've been thinking, what should I do if my family member has an alcohol or drug problem, and should I encourage the person to seek professional help?

At some point in our life, most all of us will be confronted with such a situation and wonder, how do I know if someone is experiencing a mental health problem? or what if the person doesn’t want help? When someone you know and love is not well or experiencing a mental health crisis, you want to be there for that person. Here's how you can help a friend, family member or co-worker with a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis.

Mental Health First Aid Courses teach knowledge and skills in order to improve your confidence to offer support to someone who may be developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. Our courses are based on MHFA Guidelines. Below is some general information from our guidelines that may provide some basic guidance to those concerned and wanting to offer help.

1. How do I know if someone is experiencing a mental illness?

2. How should I approach someone?

3. How can I be supportive?

4. What doesn’t help?

5. Should I encourage the person to seek professional help?

6. What if the person doesn’t want help?

7. What if the person is suicidal?

8. Where do I find immediate assistance?

1. How do I know if someone is experiencing a mental illness?

  • Only a trained professional can diagnose someone with a mental illness.
  • If you notice changes in a person’s mood, their behaviour, energy, habits or personality, you should consider a mental illness being a possible reason for these changes.
  • It is important to learn about mental illnesses and the signs and symptoms.
  • Do not ignore symptoms that you notice or assume they will go away.
  • Remain aware that each individual is different and not everyone experiencing a mental illness will show the typical signs and symptoms.

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2. How should I approach someone?

  • Give the person opportunities to talk. It can be helpful to let the person choose when to open up. However if they do not initiate conversation about how they are feeling, you should say something to them. Speak openly and honestly about your concerns.
  • Choose a suitable time to talk in a space you both feel comfortable where there will be no interruptions, when you are both sober and in a calm frame of mind.
  • Use ‘I’ statements such as ‘I have noticed....and feel concerned’ rather than ‘you’ statements.
  • Let the person know you are concerned about them and are willing to help.
  • Respect how the person interprets their symptoms.
  • If the person doesn’t feel comfortable talking to you, encourage them to discuss how they are feeling with someone else.

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3. How can I be supportive?

  • Treat the person with respect and dignity
  • Do not blame the person for their illness
  • Offer consistent emotional support and understanding
  • Encourage the person to talk to you
  • Be a good listener
  • Give the person hope for recovery
  • If the person would like information, make sure the resources you provide are accurate and appropriate to their situation.

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4. What doesn’t help?

  • Telling them to ‘snap out of it’ or ‘get over it’
  • Being hostile or sarcastic
  • Being over-involved or over-protective
  • Nagging
  • Trivialising a person’s experience by pressuring them to ‘put a smile on their face,’ to ‘get their act together’ etc.,
  • Belittling or dismissing the person’s feelings by saying things like ‘You don’t seem that bad to me.’
  • Speaking in a patronizing tone of voice
  • Trying to cure the person or come up with answers to their problems.

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5. Should I encourage the person to seek professional help?

  • Ask the person if they need help to manage how they are feeling.
  • It is important to become familiarised with services available locally and online.
  • If they feel they do need help, discuss the options they have for seeking help and encourage them to use those options.
  • Encouraging them to see their GP is a good place to start.

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6. What if the person doesn’t want help?

  • You should find out if there are any specific reasons why they do not want to seek help. They may be based on mistaken beliefs. You may be able help the person overcome their worry about seeking help.
  • If the person still doesn’t want help after you’ve explored their reasons, let them know that if they change their mind in the future they can contact you.
  • You must respect the person’s right not to seek help unless you believe they are at risk of harming themselves or others.

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7. What if the person is suicidal?

  • Suicide can be prevented. Most suicidal people do not want to die. They simply do not want to live with the pain.
  • It is important to take suicidal thoughts and behaviours seriously.
  • Openly talking about suicidal thoughts and feelings can save a life.
  • It is important that you know the warning signs and risk factors for suicide, and the reasons why a person might have thoughts of suicide.

Helping a person who is suicidal is complex, however there are three key actions to helping a person who is suicidal:

  1. If you think someone may be suicidal, ask them directly.
  2. If they say yes, do not leave them alone.
  3. Link them with professional help.

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8. Where do I find immediate assistance?

  • LifeLine 13 11 14

    www.lifeline.org.au
    Confidential telephone crisis support service available 24/7 from a landline, payphone or mobile.

  • Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467

    www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au
    The Suicide Call Back Service provides free nationwide professional telephone and online counselling for anyone affected by suicide.

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