How to help others with mental health (even when you’re not a therapist)

Reading Time: 2 minutes When someone’s having a mental health crisis, what can you do to help them?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Mental health is a hot topic on the internet today. There are articles everywhere on how to be mentally healthy, lessons on mindfulness, and even advice on how to calm down from a panic attack. Breaking down the stigma is wonderful and revolutionary.  

But when it really comes down to it, how do we help others with their mental health? It’s a sensitive topic to be approached with empathy. 

First, one caveat. No one can ever fully understand another person’s mental health, or the reasons why someone feels a certain way. Understanding this first is key to helping people. Also, telling someone to ‘just get over’ a diagnosed condition is both unkind and unrealistic. People cannot be ‘talked out of’ mental health conditions. 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA, says that learning more about mental health issues can lead to greater understanding and compassion. Breaking down this stigma by thinking in new ways and having compassion is one way we can begin to help others.  

SAMHSA also says that if a friend or family member is showing signs of a mental health problem or is reaching out for help, offer support by reassuring them that you care about them. We don’t have to entirely understand every detail of what someone is going through, but kindness is always an option. 

The question then becomes, how can we recognize when someone might be struggling with their mental space, and what can be said to help? It starts with recognizing when someone doesn’t seem to be acting as themselves. They might seem unusually down or moody. A conversation can be started by asking if something’s wrong or by saying that they haven’t seemed like themselves lately.  

The UK Mental Health Foundation gives some helpful suggestions when talking to someone who may be struggling. The article is worth reading in full, but essentially, they recommend setting aside time with no distractions, letting them share as much or as little as they want to, and not diagnosing their feelings. 

“You probably aren’t a medical expert, and while you may be happy to talk and offer support, you aren’t a trained counsellor,” the article says. “Try not to make assumptions about what is wrong or jump in too quickly with your own diagnosis or solutions.” 

Additionally, the Student Health Center is a great mental health resource for UVU students in particular. Their new TimelyCare service offers free 24/7 access to remote mental health services. “[The service] is a virtual health and well-being platform [that] is designed for college students and offers health coaching, scheduled counseling, chatline support, and more,” their site says. No insurance is required to use the service. 

However, what can you do if someone brings up suicide? One possibility the Student Health Center recommends is to refer them to Utah’s suicide and crisis lifeline, reached by dialing 988, a shortcut number like 911 for an emergency. This number offers confidential support, available 24/7. While no one can be forced to reach out and get professional help, encouraging and staying with them until they feel safe is one way to help. 

Above all, let the person in question know that you’re there for them. This assumption may feel obvious, but it can be easy for someone experiencing a mental health crisis to forget that they are valued. As we talk to each other about mental health, we’ll begin to break down the stigma that surrounds it — and hopefully, we’ll come to understand one another better.