Most people experiencing a problem with their mental health will speak to a friend or family member before they speak to a health professional, so your support can be really valuable.
What emotional support can I offer?
If someone lets you know that they are experiencing difficult thoughts and feelings, it's common to feel like you don’t know what to do or say – but you don't need any special training to show someone you care about them, and often it can be the most valuable help you can offer. For example:
- Listen. Simply giving someone space to talk and listening to how they’re feeling, without judgement or necessarily trying to offer any solutions, can be really helpful in itself. If they're finding it difficult to open up, let them know that you're there when they are ready.
- Offer reassurance. Seeking help can feel lonely, and sometimes scary. You can reassure someone by letting them know that they are not alone, and that you will be there to help.
- Stay calm. Even though it might be upsetting to hear that someone you care about is distressed, try to stay calm. This will help your friend or family member feel calmer too, and show them that they can talk to you openly without upsetting you.
- Be patient. You might want to know more details about their thoughts and feelings, or want them to get help immediately. But it’s important to let them set the pace for seeking support themselves.
- Try not to make assumptions. Your perspective might be useful to your friend or family member, but try not to assume that you already know what may have caused their feelings, or what will help.
- Keep social contact. Part of the emotional support you offer could be to keep things as normal as possible. This could include involving your friend or family member in social events, or chatting about other parts of your lives.
What practical support can I offer?
There are lots of practical things you can do to support someone who is ready to seek help. For example:
- Look for information that might be helpful. When someone is seeking help they may feel worried about making the right choice, or feel that they have no control over their situation. Our pages on seeking help for a mental health problem will give you some ideas on what research you can do, existing support available and ways you can help someone think about what might work for them.
- Help to write down lists of questions that the person you’re supporting wants to ask their doctor, or help to put points into an order that makes sense (for example, most important point first).
- Help to organise paperwork, for example making sure that your friend or family member has somewhere safe to keep their notes, prescriptions and records of appointments.
- Go to appointments with them, if they want you to – even just being there in the waiting room can help someone feel reassured.
- Ask them if there are any specific practical tasks you could help with, and work on those. For example, this could include:
- offering a lift to their appointment
- arranging childcare for them
- taking over a chore or household task
- Learn more about the problem they experience, to help you think about other ways you could support them. Our website provides lots of information about different types of mental health problems, including pages on what friends and family can do to help in each case.
What can I do if someone doesn't want my help?
If you feel that someone you care about is clearly struggling but can't or won't reach out for help, and won't accept any help you offer, it's understandable to feel frustrated, distressed and powerless. But it’s important to accept that they are an individual, not everybody will be open to the help that they are offered, and there are always limits to what you can do to support another person.
- Be patient. You won’t always know the full story, and there may be reasons why they are finding it difficult to ask for help.
- Offer emotional support and reassurance. Let them know you care about them and you'll be there if they change their mind.
- Inform them how to seek help when they're ready (for example, you could show them our pages on seeking help for a mental health problem).
- Look after yourself, and make sure you don't become unwell.
- Force someone to talk to you. It can take time for someone to feel able to talk openly, and putting pressure on them to talk might make them feel less comfortable telling you about their experiences.
- Force someone to get help (if they're over 18, and are not posing immediate danger to themselves or someone else). As adults, we are all ultimately responsible for making our own decisions. This includes when – or if – we choose to seek help when we feel unwell.
- See a health care professional for someone else. A doctor might give you general information about symptoms or diagnoses, but they won't be able to share any specific advice or details about someone else without their consent.
What can I do if it's an emergency?
There may be times when your friend or family member needs to seek help more urgently, such as if they:
- are experiencing suicidal feelings, and feel they may act on them
- are behaving in a way that's putting themselves or someone else at immediate, serious risk of harm
In this situation, as long as you feel safe to do so, you should stay with them and help them follow the steps outlined in our page on seeking help in a crisis. (See our pages on crisis services and supporting someone who feels suicidal for more information.)
If you’re worried about someone and you’re not sure what to do, you can call the Mind Blue Light Infoline. Our Infoline can give you confidential, independent and practical advice to help you support the person you care about.
0300 303 5999 (Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm)
This information was published in January 2016. We will revise it in 2019.