Picture of someone supporting friend with depressionAccording to statistics published by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), by the age of 40, approximately half the national population will have or will have experienced mental health problems. Given this data, it’s clear that mental health concerns will affect everyone, either directly or indirectly, at some point in their lives.

A conversation can make an important difference in supporting a family member, friend, or colleague in overcoming such challenges as anxiety and depression.

Here are a few do’s and don’ts to help you have the most effective conversation with someone you believe is struggling.

  • Don’t be afraid to express your worry. Your support may make all the difference.
  • Be genuine. There’s no right or wrong way to communicate your concern, so choose a way that feels comfortable for you. At the same time, consider opportunities where the person you’re speaking with might be most receptive to speaking about their difficulties.
  • Explain the reason behind your concern. In order to do so, think about what you’ve observed in the other person, such as changes in their mood or behaviour.
  • Encourage them to talk about what they’re thinking, how they’re feeling, and what they’re doing differently at a pace that works for them. Recognize that opening up and being vulnerable isn’t easy, and sometimes happens very slowly.
  • Take the time to understand their experience by listening attentively without interruptions. Reflect back to them what they’ve said in your own words so the person feels heard and so you can clarify that you’ve understood correctly.
  • Avoid passing judgment if they share something that you don’t understand. The person you’re speaking with will have a hard time trusting you with their thoughts and feelings if they are criticized or led to feel ashamed.
  • Resist offering solutions or giving advice. Although it’s tempting to want to try to alleviate someone’s suffering, solutions are often based on false assumptions or may not feel viable to a person. The most helpful thing you can do is listen.
  • Embrace silence. It creates space for the other person to speak, and also allows both parties an opportunity to consolidate their thoughts.
  • Help the person explore their options to get better, such as accessing a helpline or therapy, and ask how best you can support them in this process. Again, don’t make recommendations unless they ask for your help; allow them to lead the conversation.
  • Accept that they may not be ready or willing to talk about their mental health. Don’t see this as a failure on your part. What’s most important is that you will have conveyed the message that you care. Let them know you’re willing to have another conversation if and when they are ready.

Remember to look after yourself too. It can be difficult, and at times even overwhelming to be around someone with mental health concerns. Seek your own support, too.

Lightwell’s individually tailored programs, including self-guided and therapist-assisted options, may be right for you or someone you know.