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Blog: supporting someone through a difficult time

19 Dec 2018
Does a friend or family member have a lot on their plate? There are ways you can support them.

We all go through rough patches at different times in life. When a family member is dealing with a tough time, it’s not always easy to know how to support them.

When we’re really distressed, stuff happens in our body and brain that makes it hard to think logically and see things clearly. That means it’s especially helpful to have an outside person there for support.

Here are some tips on how to be there for someone who’s going through a lot.

Listen with compassion

For someone going through a tough time, one of the most helpful things you can do is listen. If you suspect someone you know is dealing with tricky issues:

  • approach them and let them know you’re there

  • find a suitable time and place to talk to them

  • ask questions about their experience

  • respond to their situation with compassion, (try to keep a friendly, neutral expression – pulling very “sympathetic” faces can actually make it harder for some people to talk about how they’re feeling)

  • repeat back what you hear to show you’ve understood

  • avoid expressing judgment

  • guide them to helpful resources – you might like to direct them to the headspace website.

Check out our advice on having difficult conversations.


Encourage them to find effective coping strategies

A useful way to improve our headspace is to notice our patterns and think strategically about how to deal with them. Ask them what works for them, and what doesn’t. There are lots of ways to make dealing tough times a little easier.

Have a discussion about coping strategies and help them to develop an action plan. Ask them what practical steps they want to take, and how they’d like support in achieving them. Check in on how they’re going over time and remind them of how to deal with moments that aren’t going well.

It helps to talk about which strategies have worked before. When we’re in the middle of a difficult time, it can seem like nothing will help. Someone else suggesting things that made a difference in the past can be a powerful circuit breaker.


Look out for them

There are usually early warning signs when our mental health is heading towards a downturn. For instance, someone could avoid social interactions, drink more, lose interest in things they enjoyed, or struggle with day-to-day tasks.

These signs differs a lot from person to person, so it’s a good idea to have a conversation with the person you’re supporting about what to look out for. You’ll be better equipped to know what’s going on, and they’ll be more conscious about where they’re at.

On the other hand, it’s a good idea to ask them what their idea of what improvement looks like. Is it completing one extra exercise session per week? Being more social? Getting to bed at the same time each night? Pointing out how far a person has come can have a big positive impact on their self-esteem.

If you’re concerned about someone, one of the most helpful things you can do is encourage them to get expert support. Support them to reach out to their local headspace centre today.