As we wrap-up this series on mental health, we’re now focusing on how to help others. We’ve discussed helping those with mental health challenges by examining how to reduce anxiety, bust common anxiety myths, and more.
If you don’t experience those mental health challenges, how do you support those who do? Or what if you’re looking for support for yourself and want to help others as well? In my experience, I’ve found that helping others, despite my own mental health challenges, can be healing and cathartic as it helps me see something bigger than myself. So let’s jump into how we can help others as the Friends’ theme song assures, “I’ll be there for you!”
One misconception is that anxiety is the direct result of a triggering event like bad news, a specific phobia, etc. Understand that sometimes there may not be a specific trigger for anxiety and that we’re just having a challenging day. The urge to “fix” and eliminate what’s hurting others can be strong, but sometimes the best thing we can do is hear them, understand that it’s happening, and let them know that we’re here to support them.
Those closest to someone with anxiety can often feel like they’re being pushed away and not being told why. This can create an additional layer of anxiety for the sufferer. Ironically, we may feel pressure to help those who are helping us, but it’s important to know that sometimes what we’re feeling just is, and that’s OK. Let those closest to you know that it’s OK as well.
I have two key supports who are close friends. I’ve helped them learn how I feel when I’m experiencing high anxiety or low depression, my “emotion ladder.” My emotion ladder maps out the intensity of anxiety and depression on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst. So if my friend asks where I am on the ladder and I tell him I’m at a five, he knows what physical sensations I’m experiencing and what coping mechanisms I have to get through it. It brings an immense sense of relief to know that those you trust most can help by just understanding and reminding us what we can do to help cope in times of high stress.
Tell friends and family that may be suffering that you understand they’re having a rough time and offer to help, but be willing to accept that there may be nothing you can do. One of the best things we can do to help someone who is struggling is trying not to “fix” them or the situation and to instead help them through it.
Consider the metaphor of how elephants react when one in their herd is sick. The healthy surround the sick elephant on all sides and help not by carrying them—taking the pain away—but by physically supporting them so they can move forward on their own, with some help. The same goes for someone who is suffering. We want to help them live with and accept what they’re feeling, not take it away completely. This is how we can learn to live our best lives despite the storms in our own heads.
In my experience, avoidance strategies offer a short-term solution at best. The best thing we can do is to accept that the emotions we’re feeling just are.
Don’t be afraid to seek resources for yourself or your friends and family who may be dealing with mental health challenges. A variety of resources are available to help, ranging from psychology to psychiatry, so you should always urge those afflicted to seek professional help.
Additionally, there are many free resources, tools, and assessments available to help. Google recently announced a partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). In this partnership, when someone searches on anxiety-related symptoms they are redirected to NAMI resources that can help, which can be invaluable in times of high anxiety.
Below are some additional resources:
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (anxiety treatment)
- Anxiety Treatment Depression Association of America
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (depression treatment)
- Mental health and COVID-19
- Mindfulness audio files and exercises
- National Alliance of Mental Illness
Thank you for reading this series on mental health. I truly hope that sharing my experiences has helped you or a loved one. Please note I am not a mental health professional, but am happy to be a resource to anyone who is interested.