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Spot. Support. Signpost

If you deliver physical activity sessions, you’re not expected to be a mental health expert. But you have a duty of care to support the people in your sessions. And often, small, everyday actions can make a big difference.

Spot. Support. Signpost aims to help anyone, from volunteers to senior leaders, to:

  • Spot the signs someone may be struggling
  • Support them, if you feel able to
  • Signpost them to help and services

Resources to help you with Spot. Support. Signpost.

We've developed lots of free assets to help you with Spot. Support. Signpost. These include:

Download these from our Spot. Support. Signpost. library

You can also check out our blogs from people with lived experiences of mental health, who've been supported by physical activity:

Or, you can take a look at our Spot. Support. Signpost animation, made in partnership with Sport England's Buddle programme.

Spotting the signs someone may be struggling

Spotting the signs can be challenging. Everyone is unique and we all have different ways of showing or talking about our experiences.

Below are some of the common signs to look out for. While these signs may suggest a person is going through a period of poor mental health, they're not definite. Avoid making assumptions about the person and how they’re feeling.

Building a good relationship with your participants can help you to better spot the signs they may be struggling. And help you to decide when to act.

  • Quieter or more withdrawn than usual
  • Louder or more energetic than usual
  • Said they’re feeling sad, anxious or worried
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Expressed thoughts of self-harm or suicide
  • Said they feel trapped or hopeless
  • More forgetful than usual
  • Confused or disordered thoughts
  • Difficulty making decisions or concentrating
  • Over-sleeping or trouble sleeping
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Drinking or smoking more than usual
  • Unexplained headaches or other aches or pains
  • Feeling sick or nauseous
  • Crying, restless or agitated
  • Appearing tired
  • Neglecting self-care

Some people may not show any signs that they’re struggling. This doesn’t make their experiences any less real or hard to cope with.

Supporting people

Supporting someone with their mental health may seem daunting.

But often small actions can have a big impact. And our SUPPORT acronym may help.

If you're supporting a young person (under 18), you'd need to tell someone else if you're concerned for their wellbeing. This could be a safeguarding lead or welfare officer.

S - See if urgent help is needed

Do you believe the person may have seriously harmed themselves, or taken steps to end their life? Do you believe they may attempt this in the near future? Depending on the situation, you could do the following:

  • If you or others feel at risk of harm right now – call 999. You might feel worried about getting someone in trouble, but it's important to put your own safety first.
  • If they’re not safe by themselves – you or another trusted adult could help them get to A&E. Or, stay with them and call 999.
  • If you think they can keep themselves safe for a little while – you could help them make an emergency GP appointment. Or encourage them to contact a helpline like the Samaritans (116 123, 24 hours a day) or Shout (text Shout to 85258, 24 hours a day). You could also encourage them to contact NHS 111 for advice.

U - Understand the best time and place for a conversation

It may not always be possible to speak there and then. Instead, show them you recognise the need to have a conversation, explain why you can’t talk now, and arrange a time to catch up.

Find a quiet, informal space away from the activity and group. Or go for a walk where there are no distractions. Or, you could reach out through a message or call. Check out this video, which has an example of how to have this kind of conversation.

P - Pose open-ended questions

Open-ended questions can help you to better understand how the person is feeling. Give the person your full attention and actively listen to them. You could ask:

  • How have you been feeling since our last session, this week, or today?
  • Have you felt like this before? What happened then? What support or action helped you?
  • You mentioned you feel low. Could you tell me more about that?

P - Provide validation for their feelings and experiences

Reassure them their feelings are valid and they’re not alone. This doesn’t mean you need to fully know or understand what they’re going through. You could say, I know this must be difficult for you. Or, it’s okay to feel like this.

Avoid assuming you know how they’re feeling. Saying you understand how you’re feeling may not be helpful if you haven’t gone through the same experiences as them.

Let them guide the conversation. If in doubt, ask – don’t assume.

O - Offer emotional support and show empathy

Use empathetic statements, like:

  • I appreciate this must be challenging
  • Thank you for sharing this with me

Avoid unhelpful clichés, like:

  • Pull yourself together
  • You’re just having a bad day
  • Don’t stress

Don’t try to fix their problems. Your first instinct might be to find a solution. But instead, listen to the person and be there for them. Remember, you’re not expected to be a mental health expert. So try to focus on providing emotional support.

R - Reassure them it’s good to talk

It may’ve been challenging for them to open up. So reassure them that it’s good to talk. 

Empower the person to decide what they want to do next. Don’t assume they want to be signposted to support. Ask if they would like this.

T - Thank them and summarise

Check if they will have support after the session. Ask them what they're doing after the session, or if someone will be there when they get home. 

Summarise the conversation and anything you or they have agreed to do. For example, you could say:

  • You’ve told me you’re going to speak to your GP about how you’re feeling, and I will email you details of your local Mind.

Remember, there’s no such thing as a perfect conversation. And you may not get it 100% right. But you’re doing your best to support the person by having the conversation.

It’s good to check-in with the person at a later date to see how they’re doing.

"Generally, the most supportive people are those who listen to understand, don't try and solve the problem but are really 'hearing' you. Being a good listener is so important."

Signposting to help and services

Signposting someone could be the first step to getting them the help they need.

But don’t assume everyone wants this. Some people may just want to have a conversation about how they’re feeling. Others may have had poor experiences of accessing support in the past.

Check in with them first. You could ask if they'd find it helpful for you to look into what support is available. You could offer to send them a list of support services, if they'd find it useful.

You could signpost them to:

Supporting yourself 

Supporting someone can be rewarding. But it can also be emotionally overwhelming. So it’s important you focus on self-care, and take time to look after your own mental and physical wellbeing. Here are some ideas:

  • Relax and reduce stress. Take a break if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Or do something you enjoy – meet a friend, listen to music or try mindfulness. Read more about relaxation and stress.
  • Learn and be creative. Learn a new skill, or join a class or group. Try doing something creative like writing, baking or playing an instrument.
  • Spend time in nature. Spending time outdoors can improve our mood. We can also bring nature indoors, with flowers or indoor plants, or spend time with animals. Learn more about the mental health benefits of nature.
  • Take care of your physical health. Try to keep active. You could try an activity you don’t usually deliver. Try to eat well and get enough sleep.

You could also check out our free self-care library. It pulls together a range of activities to help you support your own and others’ wellbeing.

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