How to recognise a friend struggling with mental health during isolation

In recent months it has become apparent how important social connection is. Now that restrictions are easing, continue to check in with your friends and family. Doing so will not only keep up the bond but also give important clues as to how they are coping.

“Family and friends play a vital role in noticing if a loved one is struggling, as they know what is different about that person’s behaviours and interactions,” says psychologist and wellbeing coach Rachelle Hampson.

Keep up communication channels

“Do not be afraid to just ask your friend or family member how they are doing and if they are really okay,” says Rachelle. “We can watch and listen for words and phrases indicating hopelessness, helplessness and withdrawal, e.g. ‘I feel like things will never be back to normal again’ or ‘I’m scared to go out’.”

It’s important to listen and don’t instantly sweep their concerns away. Instead of simply replying with “It’ll be fine” or “Don’t worry about it”, try using phrases such as:

  • “I hear you say you’re feeling scared – what can you do to feel a little safer?”
  • “How can I help you feel less isolated?”

Look and listen

Face-to-face connection is preferable, but if that’s not possible, opt for video chats or phone calls rather than emails or texts. You’ll be better able to gauge body language and facial expressions – you may notice that your loved one looks tired or different to usual.

A person’s tone of voice can also clue us in as to how they’re feeling. Do they sound flat or are speaking more quietly than usual? Are they talking more, or less? While you don’t need to concentrate on every micro detail, being observant can help you pick up on how they’re feeling beyond the words they say.

Be inquisitive while being respectful of boundaries

It can be hard to know the line between helping and pushing, and boundaries can get blurred along the way. You might feel uncomfortable asking someone how they are and they might not be open to sharing their experience with you.

Rachelle recommends focusing on honest, respectful and compassionate communication. “State the awkwardness: ‘I know this might sound like I’m prying but I’ve noticed you seem a bit down which is why I’m asking this question; I hope that’s okay?’,” says Rachelle.

Encourage them to seek help

If you suspect your loved one is struggling, encourage them to speak with a professional such as their GP or a psychologist.

Rachelle suggests the following phrases to explain why you think a professional would be beneficial:

  • “I can see/hear you are struggling at present. I wonder if it’d be helpful if you could speak to your doctor or counsellor/psychologist to help you work out ways to feel more connected again?”
  • “I’d really like to help you [as your friend/brother/daughter, etc.] but I’m not sure I have the best skills, so I’d really like it if you could see the doctor and get a referral to talk to a counsellor.”

It’s important to note that a good friend or family member can’t take the place of a mental health care plan provided by a professional. Please contact your GP or a crisis support service such as Lifeline (13 11 14) should you have concerns about your mental health or that of a loved one.

Category: Wellness

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Article by: Defence Health