How to Help Friends and Family Who Are Struggling With Mental Health Difficulties (Including In Prison)

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Have you got a friend or family member who’s going through a tough time with their mental health? It can be difficult to know how to help. Maybe you’re worried about saying the wrong thing.

Chances are, your family member or friend will really appreciate you being there for them. Here are some practical things you can do to help:

#1: Listen to Them (Without Offering Unsolicited Advice)

If someone is going through a tough time, one of the kindest things you can is to listen. It can be tempting to offer advice, but this may not be as helpful as you’d hope. Unless someone directly asks for your suggestions, try to focus on simply empathizing with their situation.

You could chat over Zoom, or on the phone, if they live a long way away or you can’t visit due to Covid restrictions.

Tip: Friends or Family in Prison in Pennsylvania? 

If your friend or family member is in prison in Pennsylvania and you’ve lost touch or can’t find their contact details, then you can find them using an inmate locator. If you can afford it, let them know that you’ll be happy to pay call charges — that way, they can phone and talk to you. You may also want to offer practical support, such as sending money or care packages.

#2: Keep in Touch

Some mental health conditions, such as depression, can make it hard for people to have the energy to stay in contact.

Something as simple as sending a text saying “I’m thinking of you” can really help. You might want to email or text at a regular time each week. Make sure they know you won’t be at all offended if they don’t feel up to responding. 

Tip: Share Your News

It can feel awkward to share happy or fun news if your loved one is going through a rough time, but they’ll likely be pleased to hear how things are going for you.

#3: Don’t Try to Trick or Force Someone to Change

It can be tough to watch someone you love going through a hard time with their mental health. You may be concerned about their physical wellbeing if they have certain conditions, such as an eating disorder, or a hoarding disorder.

Don’t try to force change on your family member. This could do much more harm than good. For instance, professionals who understand hoarding say you shouldn’t make a surprise visit or tidy up against someone’s wishes.

Tip: Do Follow Their Lead

Of course, you can help your friend or family member if they want help. If they ask for suggestions, feel free to give them. You might also offer to help in practical ways. For example, if you know your family member is helped by exercise, you could offer to go for a walk or run with them.

#4: Take Care of Yourself Too

It can be emotionally draining to help someone with mental health difficulties. Make sure you take care of yourself as well. That could mean talking to a counselor or helpline.

It’s important to have boundaries about your time and energy. For instance, you might limit how often you meet up with a friend so that you have enough time for your other friendships, your family, and your work.

Tip: Let Other Friends and Family Members Help Too

Even if you’re the main person who helps, do encourage other friends and family members to help too. That could mean sending emails, chatting on the phone, or even doing something practical for you (e.g. babysitting so you can have some time to yourself).

Simply being there as a supportive presence can help your family member or friend through a period of mental health difficulties. Don’t feel that you “should” be doing more: just do what you can.

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