One of the biggest concerns that many who wish to help others face is the difficulty of bringing up and discussing various challenges. Mentioning private or sensitive subject matter may make you—or your family member, friend, or peer—feel awkward, shameful, uncomfortable, or vulnerable. Too often, fear of experiencing these feelings stops us from communicating and, consequently, connecting with others, including those in need of help. For more information by Dr. Brené Brown on the subject of connection as it relates to shame and vulnerability, click here. That said, if a family member, friend, or peer is facing challenges that are affecting their behaviors or thoughts (which we will discuss below), it’s important to acknowledge them, as doing so will help them feel accepted, included, and understood.
One useful tool that WISE created in an effort to make bringing up and discussing the challenges of others easier is the Safe Person Decal which, if displayed, indicates your desire to be a safe person for others by observing the Safe Person Decal 7 Promises, which can be found here.
Here, however, we will be featuring another resource called Seize the Awkward. Their website, which can be found here, includes all of the information below, as well as videos sharing the personal stories of how talking to others, can make a difference.
How do I know if my family member or friend may be going through a hard time?
Family members or friends facing challenges may not want to be around others. If they do, they may seem anxious, distracted, hopeless, or negative. They may experience sudden shifts in behavior or mood, take unnecessary risks, harm themselves physically, or increase alcohol or drug use. It’s important to acknowledge and address these signs if seen, as it may indicate a need for help. Click here to watch a short video on how to know if you should reach out to a family member or friend.
How do I start the conversation?
If you know that a family member, friend, or peer is facing a challenge or if you notice any of the aforementioned signs, find a time to sit down with them in a private location. Start by asking open-ended questions like ‘Are you all good?’, ‘Is everything OK?’, or ‘I’ve noticed you’ve been down lately. What’s going on?’ Help them to talk by avoiding close-ended questions that end in “yes” or “no.” Click here to watch a short video on how to start a conversation with your family member or friend about their mental health.
What do I do during the conversation?
While you’re having the conversation with your family member or friend, try to relax. Make yourself available to them, and tell them that you are someone they can rely on to listen and support. Tell them that this won’t change your opinion of them and that it’s OK to feel the way they do. Let them lead the conversation, and really listen to what they’re saying. Avoid offering advice or trying to fix their problems. Instead, ask if they’ve seen an expert and encourage them to do so if they haven’t. Click here to watch a short video on how to continue to talk with a family member or friend about their mental health after you’ve asked about how they are feeling.
What do I do next?
The most important thing to do is show your friend that you’re there for them. Be available to get together or talk, and keep checking in. Respect their trust in you by keeping your conversation private unless they or someone else is in danger. In an emergency, call 911 right away or take your family member or friend to the emergency room for assistance. In a crisis, get immediate support by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. It’s free and completely confidential unless it’s essential to contact emergency services to keep yourself or others safe.
As individuals a part of various communities and groups, it’s important that we consider others, especially those who may otherwise be neglected or overlooked and attempt to assist them in what ways that we can. Simply making ourselves available is the easiest way to connect with others and, potentially, make a meaningful difference in their lives. The recommendations shared here align well with the Safe Person 7 Promises. Order decals indicating your interest in being a safe person for others here.
Lucy, and the WISE team