How to Help Others Without Harming Yourself
Those are the key words for me, to help others without harming yourself. I have, you could say, a complicated family, and have often found myself on the supporting end of a mental health crisis. The same goes for supporting friends. I like to think I’m a caring person and I am in no way resentful of being able to offer a shoulder to lean on. In fact, I think it’s a privilege that people in my life feel able to turn to me for support in times of need. This article is for anyone out there who has found themselves on the supporting end of a mental health crisis and perhaps felt nervous or anxious about being able to do ‘the right thing’, or just wants a way to offer support without getting too emotionally distressed themselves.
I consider myself to be a very empathetic person. In fact, sometimes I think I have too much empathy and often find myself weighed down by the worries and problems of others. Sometimes I have to take a step back and laugh at myself at how much other peoples concerns become my own. In the past, I have found myself almost unable to function due to the weight of problems the people I love have to face, and I know that’s not healthy. So, I wanted to write this piece to share with you all the ways I’ve to learn how to A, be there for someone in the midst of a mental health crisis and B, look after myself whilst doing it.
Here are my first-hand experience tips. There are also links to more professional help at the bottom of this article for anyone who is interested.
How to help someone in a mental health crisis:
- Keep calm. If they’ve chosen to express their crisis to you, that’s the positive first step. Don’t panic, or start talking over them, or ask them not to cry. They need to express what they need to express, however they need to say it. The first thing to do before you react is to take a deep breath, stay calm and just start listening.
- Just be there. Many people feel the pressure to say or do ‘the right thing’ when someone turns to them for help in the middle of the mental health crisis. But the first step is to just be there for them, whether that means listening to them cry down the phone or physically sitting there with them. Just give them a hug, hold their hand, sit next to them, and let them know they’re not alone.
- Listen. I talked about active listening in my other post on how to talk about sexual abuse in a healthy way. But really, just listen. Don’t think about what you need to say back as they’re talking. Sometimes people can’t quite find the words they want to say, so listen carefully to the meaning of their words as well.
- Repeat their words back to them. People who are in a haze of expressing things often can’t hear their own words. It can help to repeat back to them the exact phrases they’ve said to you. That way, they truly get some perspective on their thoughts.
- Ask questions. It can encourage them to think about things from alternative points of view. You don’t have to make statements or have all the right answers. Just ask them questions to help them think about their crisis.
- If they can’t talk to you, open a path for them to talk to someone else. It may be a friend, family member or professional. If they feel they can’t share the details of their crisis for you, for whatever reason, then find them, someone, they can talk to.
- Get professional help where needed. Sometimes people need someone to talk to who isn’t close to them or doesn’t know them, especially if they have something quite intense to talk about. There’s lots of professional help available (see the list below for some examples) and if in doubt speak to the NHS.
How to care for yourself while helping others:
As much as you love the person you’re supporting, or have empathy for the person who needs help, it’s important to acknowledge that supporting others can be physically and mentally exhausting. Here are just a few tips that I’ve tried to teach myself, through my experience of helping others.
- Take your own advice. You may be telling them to write things down, talk to others, do things that keep them relaxed. Many people offer advice on things to do to that will temporarily relieve stress and can lift your state of mind. Take your own advice and do the things you’re recommended to them.
- Keep up with self-care. Whatever you do to relax after a long day, do it now. Have a hot bath, take the dog for a walk, watch the guilty pleasure TV series you’ve been binge watching. It may sound small, and no it won’t cure everything, but take a bit of time out for yourself to let your mind absorb what has just happened. Your mind will appreciate it.
- Talk to others. Even if you don’t want to share the details of what the other person is going through, you need someone lean on too. Invite someone round, have a glass of wine or hot chocolate and talk to them about how it made you feel. You’ll feel better for it. Trust me.
- Join a support group. There are some great support groups out there for people who support others with mental health conditions. You can search for some using the list from MIND.
The most important thing to remember when supporting someone going through a crisis is that we’ve all been there or could be there. How would you like to be treated in that scenario? Be patient, stay calm and offer your empathy and understanding. Check out the below links for additional support.
Helpful links for mental health support:
- How to cope when supporting someone else – MIND
- Seeking help for a mental health problem – MIND
- Mental health advice crisis contacts – Rethink Mental Illness
- Young Minds
Check out these other articles about mental health and wellbeing: