My partner came home from work the other night, just as I was getting out of the shower. He took off his shoes, and put his laptop away as he does every evening, then came to find me to say hi, kiss me, ask about my day.
This time, when he came upstairs, he found me sitting on the edge of the bed still in my towel, from the shower. I was just staring blankly at the floor. Understandably he was automatically concerned and asked me if I was okay, and what was up. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t even look up.
Then he asked me “Are you just a bit down?”. I laughed. Not a real laugh, like one of those pathetic little chuckle laughs, and responded with “No… not just ‘a bit’”.
Normally, when I’m feeling down, he will just comfort me. Hug me, ask me if there’s anything he can do, make me a cup of tea, and generally just be there. This time, he started to ask questions about it. For a moment, my mind told me I didn’t have the energy to be answering questions about this, I just want to feel down, but I brushed that thought away and took this as a good thing, and so I answered his questions as best I could. It helped. It lifted the low mood for the most part, and brought me back in to the real world a little bit.
Whilst we were talking about this, he made a really good point about there not being any support or guidance for those people who are helping someone with mental health issues. Again, for a brief moment, my brain went straight into defence-mode like, erm excuse me wtf do you mean there’s no support for YOU, you’re not the one dealing with this every day! I didn’t say this, I realised this was probably just the monkey-brain talking (I’m not going crazy, I promise… have a read of The Chimp Paradox, by Prof Steve Peters, and it will make sense). Instead I thought about it for a moment, and realised that you don’t see much guidance or support for people who are around someone with mental health every day, and want to help them.
As the person who is dealing with these issues, it can be hard to see past that at times and see that the people around us, who love and want to help us, are also struggling because they don’t know how to help us, and can feel like they’re walking on eggshells a lot of the time. It can be very daunting for them, and if they’re people who have never experienced it, it can be very hard for them to understand it. I’ve always tried to let my partner know that he can speak to me if he’s struggling with it, I’ve always told him to ask me things, and to let me know if it’s affecting him too, but I also know that he doesn’t want to add to my pressures (we can’t win really can we?!).
So, if you have a loved who is dealing with mental health, and you just want to help them. Or, if you’re the one dealing with mental health, and the ones around you are struggling with what to do, I have put together a brief list of the small things that you can do, that just start to make a change to that person’s day, or life.
I’m putting this top of the list because, for me personally, this is something that can send me the opposite way of what you’re trying to achieve. If someone is feeling down, a lot of the time it can seem to be for no real reason. I’d probably try and steer away from asking if they’re okay anyway (if they’re clearly not okay), but if you ask them things like “what’s wrong” and they tell you they don’t know, it’s probably because they genuinely don’t know and they don’t know what to tell you. Don’t push this and force them to answer, this can cause stress and anxiety, and can sometimes make someone feel even worse. We know it’s frustrating for you, but it’s probably more frustrating for us.
I know this sounds like a bit of a contradiction from the first point, but hear me out. So, we’ve already established that we don’t ask “Are you okay” when said person is definitely not. However, there are other things you can ask to try and help someone to open up. Ask things like…
How are you feeling?
What’s on your mind?
These are more open-ended questions, rather than just ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions. It also shows that you genuinely want to know, and aren’t just asking to be polite.
If someone is feeling down, they may not open up to you straight away. When my partner sits with me to try and find out what’s wrong, I don’t think there has ever been a time where I have immediately started to tell him. If you ask someone how they’re feeling, or what’s on their mind, and they go quiet, reluctant, and maybe a little bit within themselves, just be patient with them. They want to tell you, they’re just trying to figure out if they should, and how to word it/where to start. Patience is absolutely key with mental health sufferers.
Keep Them Fed & Hydrated
This is so important, and is not thought about enough when it comes to mental health. People with mental health problems, can go the full day without eating or drinking. For me personally, I will always drink something, but I can be terrible for missing a meal, even if I’m hungry. I will usually have breakfast, and then not eat anything substantial until dinner (which could be like 9-10 hours later!). Eating right and drinking enough water can have such a positive effect on someone’s mental health, but so many people are slack with it (and I’m really guilty of this!). If you’re with them, make them a meal and bring them glasses of water. If you’re not physically there with them, ask them throughout the day if they’ve eaten and drank enough water. Even the pure sentiment of asking these questions can go a long way. It shows that you really care about them!
I know that sounds vague, and yeah that is pretty vague, but what I mean is plan days out to do things. It doesn’t even have to cost very much, if anything, to do stuff. You can even plan a day in, for those rainy days (Pinterest is great for ideas!). One of the best things I’ve found that helps me, is going out for long walks. Find little trails, parks, woods in your area, or drive out to somewhere beautiful and go for a scenic walk. Even just going for a long drive somewhere. My partner and I have had so many days or nights where we’ve just jumped in the car and driven somewhere, and we always find somewhere beautiful! Look for fairs, markets, or events in your area, there’s loads of things you can do and it does the mind a world of good, which is good for everyone!
*As a side note to planning things, be cautious about springing things on someone. Maybe try and figure out if they like surprises, or not, because if they don’t you may need to tell them about the plan a couple of days in advance, so that they can prepare themselves for it. You don’t want to cause any anxiety being triggered, especially when we’re trying to do the opposite of that.
I know that there is so much more to mental health, but I do genuinely believe that these are a really good starting point for anyone who has a loved one that they hate to see suffering, and they want to help. This is something that I’ve really thought about for the past few days, since this was brought up to me, and I think it’s such a good point that there just isn’t enough help and advice out there for the people around us, to help us with our mental health, and it’s so important!
I hope this is a good starting point for anyone reading, and I will absolutely be putting more focus on this type of content for future posts, so bear with me and we’ll work on this struggle together!