Worried about someone else's mental health?

Supporting someone who is distressed or living with a mental health problem can at times leave us feeling confused and helpless. We’re here to provide practical information, advice and reassurance to help you more effectively support a friend, relative or colleague with mental health problems. Contact us today – we’re here to help.

Understanding their situation

Seeing someone we care about becoming increasingly distressed, depressed or acting out of character can be a very painful experience. It can leave us feeling helpless. We might be tempted to jump in and try and sort out the situation without thinking our actions through. Or we might simply not know what to do. These feelings can be further amplified when the person doesn't reach out for help, or engage with treatment.

You don't have to be able to solve a person's problem or even to understand it fully, but listening to what they say, and being patient, will let them know you care.

Getting professional help

Showing you care is very important but sometimes encouraging someone to access appropriate professional help is most important. Encouraging the person to go to their GP is a really helpful first step. You might even offer to go with them. 

If they are in contact with mental health services already and have a Key Worker (a Support Worker, Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) or Social Worker) encourage them to contact this person. Again, you might offer to go with them, or even contact the worker directly if they give you permission.

What to do in an emergency

If someone you know is in immediate danger of seriously harming/killing themselves or endangering someone else:

Contact their existing Key Worker if they have one, or their GP practice.
Contact Social Services Emergency Duty Team on 01228 526690.

If you cannot get through to these people, or you believe that the person is at immediate risk call 999 and state clearly that you have someone with you that is at risk of taking their own life (or endangering another). It often helps if you can offer any relevant information about the person. This will include:

Their personal details including address and telephone number
Where they are
Information about your experience of how they are
Unusual behaviours or out of character behaviours
What they have said
Their history of mental illness or use of drugs and alcohol, if any


In this situation, as long as you feel safe to do so, you should stay with them and help them follow the steps outlined on Mind's pages on seeking help in a crisis. (Also see Mind pages on crisis services and supporting someone who feels suicidal for more information.)

Please note:

The actions above could lead to the person being detained under the mental health act (sectioned) in hospital and treated without their consent. Also be aware that this might in fact be the best solution for the person at the time.

How does someone get sectioned?

In exceptional circumstances it's possible to keep a person in hospital under a section of the Mental Health Act (often called being sectioned), and treat them without their consent. The decision to section someone is very serious, and can only be taken by a team of approved mental health professionals (AMHPs). 

If you feel someone is at serious risk and will not approach anyone for help, you can contact their local social services, who can decide to arrange an assessment (you can usually find the number for social services on the local council's website). This is a heavy responsibility, so before taking action it’s important that you understand what might happen, and what your loved one's rights are (see Mind's pages on sectioning and consent to treatment for more information). It might also be a good idea to talk this through with someone you trust.

Listening can help

If you are worried about a friend, colleague or relative, why not ask how they are and give time in your day to listen to them. Asking how they are and demonstrating that you care could be a life saver.

You don't have to be able to solve a person's problem or even to understand it fully, but listening to what they say will let them know you care.

Remember that for some people though, talking about their problems might not be easy. Try not to make judgements about their behaviours and thoughts.

We know that stigma surrounding emotional distress, mental health problems and suicidal thoughts is still prevalent in our society, so not judging the way a person feels or acts and helping someone overcome their fears about getting help are very important.

How can I look after myself?

Supporting someone else can be stressful. Making sure that you look after your own wellbeing can mean that you have the energy, time and distance to help someone else. For example:

Take a break when you need it. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by supporting someone, taking some time for yourself can help you feel refreshed.

Talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling. You may want to be careful about how much information you share about the person you’re supporting, but talking about your own feelings to a friend can help you feel supported too.

Be realistic about what you can do and don't take too much on. Your support is really valuable, but it’s up to your friend or family member to seek support for themselves. Remember that small, simple things can help, and that just being there for them is probably helping lots.

For more ideas about how to keep yourself well, see Mind's pages on coping as a carerimproving and maintaining your wellbeing, and managing stress.

MindLine Cumbria is here to provide practical information, advice and reassurance to help you more effectively support a friend, relative or colleague with mental health problems. Contact us today – we’re here to help.


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