What can you do to support a friend or family member who is struggling emotionally?

When someone you are close to goes through a prolonged period of emotional pain, it can be hard to know how to respond. It's understandably difficult, but luckily, psychologists like us have figured out some of the best ways to help. The following are a few of the responses at your disposal.
  1. Staying positive can be useful for keeping spirits up. However, being overly positive or telling the person who is struggling that they need to be more positive in their thinking has the danger of being invalidating and unhelpful.
  2. Providing advice can be useful if used sparingly. Commonly, even good advice may not hit the mark because acting on such advice may be too difficult for the person who is struggling. Too much advice can be overwhelming and unhelpful.
  3. It is likely that one of the most helpful things that you can do for somebody who is struggling is to help them feel less alone in their suffering. See if you can attempt to find the words that may describe your empathic pain. That is, if you can describe what it would be like to see that same problem through that same person's eyes, it may not only help them feel understood, but it may also emotionally soothe them.
  4. If your loved one's suffering reduces their ability to function in day-to-day life and work, it can be useful to encourage them to see a health professional. There can be a stigma attached to mental distress, so try to normalize this option. A visit to a General Practitioner is a great starting point.
  5. Be patient and empathic towards any resistance to seeking help. Unless a person is a danger to themselves or others, you will have to respect their right to make their own choices about treatment.
  6. If you are worried about suicide or self-harm, make a call to your local area acute mental health team for advice on how best to proceed. They can be contacted on 1800 011 511
The following websites have excellent resources with further information. For adults worried about another adult: www.ruok.org.au For parents of university students: https://www.jedfoundation.org/parents For parents of school children: http://emotioncoaching.gottman.com/ --- Patrick Sheehan is clinical psychologist who works with adults and adolescents. He runs training programs at The University of Sydney assisting students to respond effectively to friends in crisis or distress. Call RWA psychology for an appointment with Patrick or one of our other psychologists.