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How you can help if I'm struggling

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It can be daunting when someone you know isn't quite right or is struggling with their mental health.

They may be experiencing mania, paranoia, anxiety, depression or any other symptom of mental illness. It's a distressing time for all involved.

A big question we're often asked by friends, family and supporters is, 'How can I help?'

The SANE Guide for Family, Friends and Carers is a good starting point. For extra insight we asked 13 SANE Peer Ambassadors to tell us what they need from their supporters when going through a tough time.

Being there is enough

Although I don't like to ask for help, knowing that I have someone to take my mind off things helps. The best thing about having friends and family who understand is that they don't question what I'm going through.

– Samantha

Raise your concerns

After many years, my family and friends are now comfortable raising their concerns. I invited them to tell me when they notice things are out of the ordinary. This means that I don't get defensive or argumentative if they approach me.

My husband and I now have an understanding, which makes the world of difference when I'm depressed. Whilst my behaviour may seem to be pushing him away, he now knows otherwise. If I retreat to my bed, he holds me. No talking. I don't have the cognitive ability to converse, but I desperately need to know that I am loved, needed, safe, secure and not a burden.

– Nicci

Don't try to fix the problem

Listen. Offer sympathy. You don't have to understand (although it helps) and you don't have to fix the problem, that's what my meds and my therapy are for.

All I need from you is to know that you've heard me.

– Harrison

Don't be a fair-weather friend

The best thing someone can do is be available, patient, empathise and listen. Don't stay away during difficult times, be there in whatever capacity is possible. That's the best advice I can offer loved ones watching someone struggle with mental illness.

– Dov

Give me space if I need it

Ideally, please leave me be and let me rest. It's best if I just do the self-care activities that I need to, without judgment or too much explanation.

My friends and family accept me as I am. It is not me, it is my disease that is causing my struggles.

– Vanessa

Help me with my daily tasks

Help me look after my animals. Take me to places that I need to visit, or just take me out for a change of scenery.

Make a meal for me. Spend more time with me. Check on me. Tell other people in my network so that the support team increases.

– Tania

If I'm having a rough day, just turn up and keep me company rather than waiting for me to say something.

Stefani

Be a good listener

At times give me space. Check in with me if I am okay. Offer hope and encouragement that I can get back on top of things. Encourage me to seek professional help early. Be there for me and a good listener.

– Matthew

Be practical

Don't offer meaningless advice. Provide support. Emotional, intellectual and circumstantial support. I went through a period where I was agoraphobic and it was helpful to have somebody with me who knew that and provided support when I did try to go out.

– Les

Keep in touch

One of the hardest things is feeling ashamed. The feeling that no one understands and if they did then they wouldn't want to be anywhere near you... because who would want to be?!

Messages that say something nice are invaluable. Losing friends and loved ones adds insult to serious injury. Having a person – friend, parent, partner, sibling – to confide in is a blessing.

– Lisa

Follow the plan

Listen to what I need and remember what I asked of you before I became unwell.

I'm very upfront and have conversations with my supports about what to do and not do if I'm unwell. And I do this well before it happens.

I have wellness plans and I also ask my close supports to access free training for themselves about my illness and their appropriate response to it.

– Mahlie

Try seeing it through my eyes

During the times when I struggled the most, I felt abandoned. As soon as my friends and family discovered the extent of my illness, they disappeared because they didn't know what to do.

I would have loved for them to visit and sit with me until my anxiety settled. Or they could have helped around the house, because the daily chores were so overwhelming. Any little help would have made a massive difference to my recovery.

I would have really appreciated someone doing some research of their own so they could have some insight into what I was going through.

– Leonie

Give me a hug

My children let me know when I'm grumpy, or I may be coming across acerbic or defensive. I also get loads of hugs and understanding from the kids. They know the difference between when I am feeling unwell and when I am my 'usual' self.

– Maree

Say it will be okay

Reassure me that I am going to get through this. Remind me that this is just part of the ride and everything will be ok. Also, just being around me when I am low helps too.

– Patrick

If you, or someone you know is through a tough time, or if you just need information about mental illness contact the SANE Help Centre on 1800 18 7263.

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