Mental Health First Aid

Support someone with potential mental health issues

Especially in this time of challenge and upset, stay aware of those around you.  Watch for anyone, young or old, with a mental health issue?  One in three North Americans will experience a mental health illness during their lifetime, yet the signs aren’t always obvious.

Mental health first aid is all about teaching all of us to recognize and respond to signs of mental illness in others, perhaps to help those suffering in plain sight.  It may be a classmate, a workmate, or a family member.

What are the Signs?

You may have heard of conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar and schizophrenia.  Each of those signs will show up uniquely in each person.  However, there are some common signs which you can watch for and support those individuals who may be struggling as a listener or supportive advocate.

Any change in someone’s normal behavior or mood could be a sign of deteriorating mental health.

Here are some early signs something may be wrong:

  • They lack interest in hobbies or things they used to enjoy doing
  • They seem tired or have poor concentration
  • They feel angry, anxious, sad or hopeless, for little reason
  • They seem to be having strange thoughts or hearing voices
  • Their appetite, sleep or exercise regime has changed
  • They’ve stopped looking after themselves, such as forgetting to wash or tidy their home
  • They’ve been missing school or work more, or avoiding social situations

How to approach someone dealing with mental health issues

If you think someone you know may be experiencing mental health issues, broaching the subject with them may feel daunting.

It’s important to remember you are doing it because you care, and that even if they react badly or reject the idea, raising the topic with them can be the first step towards them getting help.

Here are some tips to make initiating the conversation easier:

  • Pick the right time and place to have the conversation. Somewhere private, where you won’t be interrupted, is ideal. Studies have shown that engaging in conversations about mental health while doing an activity, such as walking, cycling, or other physical activity helps people to open up.
  • Perhaps as a follow up to a Co-Listening session.  Ask them how they’re feeling.  It might sound simple, but it’s easier if they mention worries about their own mental health, rather than you project your concerns onto them. If they begin to open up, listen non-judgmentally and ask open questions to help them explore their own feelings
  • If they haven’t alluded to any issues with their mental health, gently tell them you have concerns, and explain what has led you to believe this. If they deny any problem, don’t push it – you don’t want your relationship with the individual to break down.
  • You can always try again another time, but its important they still feel able to talk to you.

Getting Help

Once someone has opened up about their mental health, it’s important to be able to help them with the next steps, both in directing them to sources of support and helping the person to engage with it.  It can be overwhelming though, and so as someone in a supporting role, there are things you can do to make it easier. Offer to make the first appointment for them, or offer to accompany them to the doctor/clinic/hospital.

Encouraging them to adopt a healthy lifestyle, getting plenty of exercise, sleep and nutritious foods, can do wonders for someone’s mental health. You can also provide emotional support, playing an important role in ensuring the person doesn’t feel alone.

It’s important to keep yourself healthy through all this, as it can take a toll on your own mental wellbeing. All the resources are also available for those supporting another person.

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