According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 1 in 5 people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness in any given year. Each of us can play a part in helping the people in our lives – friends, family members, neighbours and coworkers – who are struggling with their mental health.
First, you can help by being alert to signs that someone is struggling.
Here are just a few of the signs you can look for:
- Recent life event like a breakup or death
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Easily irritated
- Withdrawing from those around them
- Lacking energy or appearing tired
- Looking sad or tearful
If someone you know is showing signs of distress find the right time to hold the conversation in a place where the person feels comfortable.
Here are some ways you could start the conversation:
- “You haven’t seemed like yourself lately. Are you doing okay?”
- “I know you’ve gone through some really hard stuff lately. Do you want to talk about it?”
- “I’ve noticed that you’ve seemed kind of down recently – is there anything you want to talk about?”
It can be scary to initiate a conversation like this, but most people will be glad you reached out. If someone responds negatively to your approach or says they do not want to talk, respectfully back off but let them know that should they ever need to talk, you are available.
What if you don’t know the person very well?
You may notice signs that a person who you don’t know very well, like a co-worker or a friend of a friend, is struggling. In this case, you may not be the best person to approach them. Ask yourself, who are they close with? Then, discretely approach that person and tell them that you’re concerned about someone they’re close with and it would be helpful if they could check in on how they are doing.
With coworkers, you may not know anyone close to them. Instead, you could bring your concerns to the Human Resources department, and ask them to check in.
If you don’t know the person very well and you can’t identify anyone who is close to them, consider talking to them anyway. Say something like, “I know we don’t each other very well, but I’ve noticed you looking down lately. Are you doing okay?” You could also let them know that Distress Centre is an option if they don’t feel comfortable confiding in you. Our crisis line is free and available 24/7.
The conversation is happening – what now?
You’ve approached the person and they do want to talk – what now? The most important thing you can do is simply listen. Avoid throwing a bunch of solutions at them or immediately suggest they see a counsellor. Most problems don’t have an easy fix, and right now they’re looking for support from you, not a professional.
See our article on 5 Steps to Help a Friend in Distress, for a step-by-step guide to addressing this conversation.
If the person is experiencing suicidal thoughts, you can help. Follow the steps in this article: 5 Steps to Help Someone Who is Having Suicidal Thoughts
Many people don’t need to see a counsellor, get professional support or even call a crisis line. They’re just going through a hard time, one that they will get through, and a caring individual reaching out to them could make their experience just a little bit easier.
For those dealing with more serious issues, such as suicidal thoughts, having someone reach out to them can make that first scary step of getting help a bit easier.
By reaching out to a person you’re worried about, and having a compassionate, non-judgemental conversation with them, you are doing your part to erase the stigma around mental illness.
If you have any questions or need any support, we’re here to help. Call us 24/7 at 403-266-4357 or you can chat online from 3-10pm weekdays and noon -10pm on weekends.
Canadian Mental Health Association: Fast Facts about Mental Illness