Go back to The Hub

Crisis Advice for Family Members & Loved Ones

Couple counseling or therapy session. Man talking about problems in the family. Husband and wife meeting their psychiatrist. Discussion with marriage counselor, mediator or relationship psychologist.

It can be so hard if someone you love is struggling with something that could be described as a mental health problem. These can be ‘invisible’ struggles and much harder to know what to do than something more physical. Here I talk about what can be helpful and where to get support. 

Generally, my philosophy when working with someone who is struggling is to understand that even if I can’t relate to it, what that person is experiencing is real for them. My approach is to try to get inside what’s going on for them; to be curious, open-minded and get a sense of it from their perspective. This can be really hard if you love them because you want, and maybe even need them, to be well. It can raise feelings of disappointment, frustration, anger and helplessness. These feelings might well be justified too if the person you love is being difficult. 

It’s worth saying at this point, that you can’t be of much support if you don’t look after yourself first. Make sure you take time away if you can, get help, talk with others and do things that are solely for you. There are carer’s support groups where you can share your experiences if that feels helpful. This website has lots of information on that Get support – Carers UK

www.mentalhealth.org.uk gives this sound advice about how to support someone with a mental health problem and how to listen well. I’ve taken this directly from their website where you can get more advice, but I agree with their eight main tips:

1. Set time aside with no distractions

It is important to provide an open and non-judgemental space with no distractions.

2. Let them share as much or as little as they want to

Let them lead the discussion at their own pace. Don’t put pressure on them to tell you anything they aren’t ready to talk about. Talking can take a lot of trust and courage. You might be the first person they have been able to talk to about this.

3. Don’t try to diagnose or second guess 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. Try not to make assumptions about what is wrong or jump in too quickly with your own diagnosis or solutions.

4. Keep questions open-ended

Say “Why don’t you tell me how you are feeling?” rather than “I can see you are feeling very low”. Try to keep your language neutral. Give the person time to answer and try not to grill them with too many questions.

5. Talk about wellbeing

Talk about ways of de-stressing or practising self-care and ask if they find anything helpful. Exercising, having a healthy diet and getting a good night’s sleep can help protect mental health and sustain wellbeing. 

6. Listen carefully to what they tell you

Repeat what they have said back to them to ensure you have understood it. You don’t have to agree with what they are saying, but by showing you understand how they feel, you are letting them know you respect their feelings.

7. Offer them help in seeking professional support and provide information on ways to do this

You might want to offer to go the GP with them, or help them talk to a friend or family member. Try not to take control and allow them to make decisions.

8. Know your limits

Ask for help or signpost if the problem is serious. If you believe they are in immediate danger or they have injuries that need medical attention, you need to take action to make sure they are safe. More details on dealing in a crisis can be found below.

If you or a loved one is in immediate crisis...