Mental health issues are very common.
According to the leading charity Mind, at least one in four people will suffer from some kind of mental health problem each year in England, while one in six experience a mental health problem such as anxiety or depression during any given week.
It’s also a problem that only seems set to get worse. A new study published by the Northern Ireland Assembly found that mental health issues associated with the pandemic and accompanying lockdowns are “likely to be profound and felt for many years”. There is no reason to think that this will not be the case both throughout the rest of the UK and the rest of the world.
Thankfully, mental health awareness has increased over recent years. Many of the taboos surrounding mental health have been broken down but a lot of people who might be struggling with mental health can still find it difficult to talk about or admit to themselves or their loved ones. Sometimes they might not even recognise the issues they are struggling with.
How to help someone struggling with Mental Health Issues
There are a number of ways to help with mental health problems. One of the simplest but most important things you can do is just to talk and listen to the other person. This can be very valuable but issues with mental health can be very complex and you might also need expert help. You may be able to point your loved one to resources and sources of information, or enlist professional help on their behalf.
Before you can do any of this, however, you have to establish that there is a problem, which generally means recognising some of the signs and symptoms of mental health issues. Sudden or severe changes in behaviour can be an indicator of mental health issues. These can be very wide-ranging and may not always be a sign of a mental illness or other mental health issue but it may be useful to talk, even if this is the case.
Here are some signs to look out for in loved ones of different ages…
Mental Health in young people
For younger children, signs to look out for could include:
- Changes in performance at school or attitude to school
- Changes in sleeping and eating habits
- Signs of anxiety or worry – such as not wanting to go to school
- Temper tantrums, aggression and disobedience
In older children and adolescents you should also look for signs including:
- Problems coping with everyday activities and responsibilities
- Substance misuse
- Prolonged bad moods, signs of depression and mood swings
- Involvement in activities such as truancy, vandalism and petty crime
- Poor appetite
- Dwelling on negative or morbid thoughts, obsessive fears
Mental Health in men and women
In adults you should look for signs including the following:
- Prolonged depression or sadness
- Inability to cope with everyday life
- Substance misuse, including increased drinking or drug use
- Confused thinking and strange thoughts or delusions
- Expressing strong feelings of fear, worry or anxiety
- Unexplained physical ailments
- Anger and mood swings
- Withdrawal from friends and family
Mental health in the elderly
Mental health issues can also affect the elderly, and there may be some generational resistance to opening up or admitting to such problems. Elderly people struggling with mental health issues could exhibit some of the signs outlined above.
It’s important to remember that the above behaviours and signs are not the only symptoms of mental health issues and they could also have other causes. If you are concerned, though, it is important to offer support and let your loved one know that you are there for them.
How to cope with Mental Health issues
It can be difficult to know what to do when struggling with mental health problems, but talking is usually the first step.
This can be a difficult conversation to have, especially if the other person does not recognise or want to acknowledge the issues they are having. There is no one approach that is right for every person or situation but here are some tips for talking to a loved one who is suffering with their mental health.
Set aside a time where you will not be hurried or face distractions. Let the person talk at their own pace and try not to put pressure on them to discuss things they are not ready for yet. At the same time, let them know that you are there to listen if they do want to open up.
You should generally try to avoid offering your own diagnosis based on what you might have read or your own experiences. As mentioned, mental health issues can be very complex and difficult to deal with. Diagnoses are not always easy, even for trained professionals with a wealth of experience.
Don’t second guess what the other person is going through or feeling – let them express it themselves and listen carefully to what they tell you.
Try to keep questions open-ended. For example, you could say, ‘Why don’t you tell me how you’re feeling?’ rather than ‘I can see you are very depressed’.
While you might not be able to provide a diagnosis or solutions yourself, it can be valuable if you offer to help them get more help and advice – whether this is by accompanying them to a GP or helping put them in touch with a relevant charity or other organisation.
For some mental health conditions, such as bulimia, anorexia and other eating disorders, experts at a private health facility such as a rehab centre could also be valuable.
There is no single ‘one size fits all’ solution when it comes to mental health, but recognising that a loved one is suffering with their Mental Health and offering them your support is always a big step in the right direction.