We’re living in troubling times right now. For those of us with mental health problems, dealing with existential threats and the fear of losing vulnerable friends and family can be overwhelming. Others may find that dealing with daily chronic anxiety actually helps them handle the sense of crisis better- which can lead others to try and lean on them unnecessarily hard for support. Either way, it’s tough to meander the paths of crisis with any sort of mental health issue.
For those who observe this, there can be the enormous temptation to “help”. To offer advice. To tell people struggling in this way what to do. What will help. What will ease their anxiety.
Please. Just. Don’t.
I can already feel many people shying away from this statement and thinking, “Hang on, what’s wrong with offering help??” Well, I’ll tell you. Buckle in.
Whatever you’re about to tell us is a good idea is either:
- Something we’ve already tried
- Something we’re doing anyway
- Something which is a trigger for us therefore completely inappropriate
- Something which can actually make the problem worse
- Nothing we have asked you for
Let me just say that again, a little louder for those in the back. The help and advice you are about to give has not been asked for.
Messaging someone and telling them they should carry certain crystals around for their depression is potentially minimising their problems and trying to make a very complex problem simple. When is this okay? Only when someone has asked you specifically for guidance on what crystals might help with depression.
Telling someone they need to slow down, when actually keeping busy is the only thing keeping their intrusive thoughts at bay, could be potentially harmful.
WhatsApping pictures of soothing countryside settings could be an emotional trigger to someone who is mourning the fact that they are stuck inside. When is this okay? Again, when someone has asked for this.
Please don’t ever presume you know the best way to help someone. No matter what their issue is. Even if you think you have been through the same thing. You haven’t. Everyone is different and has different needs.
So, what can you do?
What does the person say they need? A friendly ear? Solitude? Company? Obviously, right now, company is tough to achieve, but if a friend who is struggling says they need more connection, you could ask them if they want you to do video chats, online events, or even look for live streams of online gigs- check out groups like Live from Lockdown for ideas.
Just ask if they’re okay.
This is super important. Someone who is managing their mental health difficulties well could be really triggered by another individual popping up in their DMs with unsolicited suggestions out of nowhere. It might be the first time they’ve even thought about their underlying problems, and it could make them crumble. Instead, just check in. “How you doing?” “Need anything?” “How’s the kids?” Never presume that just because someone has struggled in the past that they are struggling now. And vice versa. Let them tell you.
The only exception to this is if you have an arrangement with someone to provide support if they are in certain difficulties. But again, this will have been pre-arranged based on that person’s needs, not your own suppositions.
This is a difficult time for everyone. And offering help is great, it really is. But please make sure you are offering the right kind of help and support and not just presuming what other people need. Ask. Listen. Try to understand. I am much more likely to appreciate someone offering to pop out for a bag of shopping than trying to ‘splain to me how to balance my chakras because they think I “probably need it.”. And believe me, that goes for many other people too.