by Rachel Aredia, LCPC, NCC

Imagine that you are talking to your friend and (s)he just told you that they are struggling with depression. Your cousin who shared with you that they are experiencing suicidal ideations, and your coworker who has anxiety. How do you respond? What do you say to all of them? All of these situations can feel complicated. 

Discussing mental health can be a sensitive topic to some, it can feel intimidating as we don't want to say the wrong things when a friend or loved one tells us that they are struggling with depression, anxiety, or experiencing suicidal thoughts. Here are some tips on what you can say and do if you find yourself in these situations:

Listen with Compassion: Take the time to listen to your friend/loved on. Simply having someone showing they care and understand can be helpful to the person. 
Stay in Touch: Check in with your loved one from time to time. By calling your loved one or direct messaging your friend it illustrates that you are still there for them no matter what they are going through. 
Be Patient: Your friend may have a difficult time getting out of their home or participating in social outings, don’t stop inviting them, rather be patient with them. Continue to invite them to participate and encourage their presence but do not pressure them. 
Support Them: Offer your support in any way you can and that you feel comfortable with. When they are ready, you can offer to help them find a professional in the area that they can talk to by going to Find A Therapist and locate a trained professional in your area. You may also ask for their permission to reach out to a school counselor, pastor, or anyone else in your community who is a good resource for those struggling with mental health issues on their behalf. 
Do Not Judge: Do not say  things like “get over it” or “try harder.” People with mental health issues are trying to move forward and can find a great deal of difficulty in this. When people tell them to “just get over it” or “try harder” it devalues their experience. 
Share: Share your experiences with mental health issues (if you have any and if you are comfortable doing so). You can share what worked for you or someone you know. Sharing will help in showing the person they are not alone. 
Educate Yourself: Take the time to learn about their diagnosis. If they are not ready to open up to you about their symptoms, there are articles online you can read that may help you get an idea of what the person is going through. 
Take Care of You:The old adage of “before you assist others, always put your oxygen mask on first,” is true. Make sure you are also taking care of yourself and your own mental health while caring for your friend/relative. 

If your friend or loved one shares that they are experiencing suicidal ideations, you may encourage them to call the confidential National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.  

Thank you for being an advocate for your friend or loved one. Your support means the world to them and provides strength that they may not have had before. 

About the author: 

Rachel received her Master of Clinical Counseling from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology and her Bachelors of Arts in Psychology from Southern Illinois University – Carbondale. Rachel has extensive experience in behavioral health counseling with adolescents and families that exhibit anxiety and related disorders, oppositional defiant and disruptive behavior disorders, and trauma.  She has a special interest in CBT for anxiety, trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder and related disorders, and has received specialized training in LGBTQ Affirmative Therapy as well as mindfulness-based treatment therapy, and motivational interviewing.  In addition, she has obtained advanced training in the application of CBT for Insomnia, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Body Focused Repetitive Behaviors (BFRBs), including skin picking, hair pulling and nail biting as well as other anxiety related disorders. Rachel’s treatment approach is described as supportive, educational, solution focused, while also being friendly, intuitive, and compassionate with a bit of humor thrown in.

I have a new friend/acquaintance who disclosed that her husband suffers from depression and anxiety. He recently went on disability while the doctors work to find the best meds for him. What is the best way for me to be supportive without being intrusive? She seems to love her husband but I know if it were me- I'd be struggling as well. Is it okay to invite her to our home- even if he does not want to come over?