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How to support someone with a mental health problem
Naluri7 min read

The Art of Being There: A Thoughtful Guide to Supporting Your Loved Ones’ Mental Health

Opening up about mental health can be akin to exposing the most vulnerable part of ourselves. The person grappling with these challenges often feels isolated, stigmatized, and incredibly fragile. As someone who cares deeply for that individual, your role is profoundly important but also complex. The questions often outnumber the answers: "How can I help? What should I say? What if I make it worse?" This extended guide aims to address these questions and more, so you can be a compassionate cornerstone for your loved one while taking care of your own well-being.


The Imperative of a Safe Space

Think about what 'safety' means in the context of mental health. It's not just about a secure physical environment, but about psychological and emotional safety—a space where one can express fears, thoughts, and feelings without judgment. Often, the most terrifying part of grappling with a mental health condition is the feeling of being 'different,' of being 'abnormal.' A safe space negates these feelings by offering acceptance and understanding. It reassures the individual that while their experience is uniquely their own, they are not alone in their struggle.

The Emotional Dynamics of Compassion

We often underestimate the power of compassionate silence—the ability to sit with someone in their emotional pain without attempting to 'fix' it. There's a compelling strength in such silence, a validation that says, "You are enough, and I am here with you, regardless of what you're going through." Authentic compassion doesn't seek to change the person or hurry them along a path they are not ready to walk; it merely offers companionship along the way.


Signs That Your Loved One Might Be Struggling

To create a safe space for a loved one, it's vital to recognize the less-obvious signs that might indicate a mental health issue. In addition to the previously mentioned signs like changes in eating and sleeping habits or emotional volatility, also look for:

  • Loss of focus or persistent zoning out
  • Excessive worry or fear
  • Difficulty relating to people or understanding emotional cues
  • Reckless behavior without concern for consequences

Remember, these are not definitive proof of a mental health condition but signals that should encourage you to initiate a conversation.

The Importance of Observing Without Intruding

The practice of observation is a delicate balance. There's a fine line between 'observing' and 'intruding' into someone's life. Being observant is not about constantly scrutinizing every action and asking probing questions, but it's about being emotionally present enough to notice when something seems off.


Navigating the Conversation with Sensitivity

To navigate the intricacies of mental health, we need to tread softly. The words we use have the power to either validate or trivialize someone's experience. Even well-intended phrases like, "Just look on the bright side," or "Others have it worse," can inadvertently invalidate their feelings. Always prioritize phrases that allow for openness and avoid those that might seem dismissive or judgmental.

The Art of Non-verbal Communication

Equally important to what we say is how we say it—our tone, our expressions, and our body language. Often, empathy is most strongly felt through non-verbal cues—a comforting pat on the back, a reassuring nod, or just sitting quietly beside the person. These actions often convey what words cannot, reinforcing the emotional safety that is vital for someone grappling with mental health challenges.

Starting the Conversation

Opening the dialogue can be the most intimidating part, but it's also the first step in offering emotional safety. Here are some phrases that can ease into the conversation:

  • "Hey, is everything alright? You seem a bit off lately." A non-confrontational way to show that you've noticed a change.

  • "Would you like to talk about it?" This question offers them the choice to share their feelings—or not, which is also okay.

Reassuring Presence

Once you've started the conversation, your next role is to be a reassuring presence. Phrases like these can provide comfort:

  • "I'm here for you." Simple but incredibly powerful, this reassures them of your support.

  • "You don't have to go through this alone." This can lighten the heavy load of isolation they may be feeling.

  • "Take your time. There’s no rush." Emotional struggles are complicated; this tells them it's okay to take it slow.

Asking What They Need

One of the best things you can do is ask what they actually need. After all, people have different emotional needs and preferences when they're struggling. Some people may want advice or suggestions, while others may just need a listening ear. Here are some ways you could ask:

  • "What’s the best way I can support you right now?"

  • "Do you want to talk, or would you prefer some quiet company?"

  • "Are you looking for advice, or do you just need someone to listen?"

Asking these questions not only shows your willingness to help but also your respect for their wishes. It takes the guesswork out of the equation and ensures you're offering the kind of support they truly need at that moment.

Navigating Through Problems

Sometimes, the person will share specific issues they're going through. Responding in a compassionate yet practical way is key:

  • "That sounds really tough. Would it be okay if we brainstorm some steps to take?" This combines empathy with a sense of proactivity.

  • "Have you considered seeking professional help?" By phrasing it as a question, you’re suggesting a course of action without forcing the issue.

  • "Would you like me to help you find a therapist or support group?" Offering tangible help can be comforting.

Encouraging Emotional Openness

The last thing you want is for the other person to feel judged or pigeonholed. The following phrases can encourage a more open emotional landscape:

  • "I may not understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help." This shows empathy without pretending you know exactly what they’re going through.

  • "It’s okay not to be okay." This simple phrase can be a balm to someone who feels they need to put on a brave face.

Consider Silence

Believe it or not, silence can be a form of emotional support. Sitting quietly beside someone—without the urgency to fill the silence—can offer a peaceful break in a world that often feels chaotic and overwhelming. It's like saying, "You don’t have to say anything; your presence alone is enough." And really, that can be such a relief for someone going through a difficult time.

On Wording Things Better

The way you phrase things matters a lot. Using "I" statements can avoid making the other person feel cornered. For example, say, "I feel concerned about what you're going through," instead of "You are making everyone worried." This keeps the focus on your feelings and observations rather than making them feel like they are a burden.


Emotional Support While Keeping Boundaries

When a loved one is in pain, our first instinct is often to offer immediate relief, but it's important to remember that we're not healthcare professionals. Our role is not to diagnose or prescribe but to guide toward expert help. Offering printed resources, sharing useful apps, or assisting in finding healthcare services can all be constructive ways of providing support.

Your Emotional Reservoir

Being emotionally supportive can deplete your emotional energy. It’s akin to the instruction given on an airplane to "put your oxygen mask on first." To effectively care for someone else, you need to take care of yourself as well. It's important to recognize your emotional reservoir and replenish it. Engage in self-reflection, exercise, meditate, or even speak to a counselor yourself. Your emotional well-being is crucial in maintaining a stable support system for your loved one.



We exist in a society that often sidesteps the issue of mental health, considering it a taboo or a sign of weakness. But it's high time we change that narrative. Offering a safe space to a friend or family member is not just a noble act; it's a humane one. It's about acknowledging the inherent dignity of the individual, offering them unconditional love and respect, and honoring their journey, however hard it may be.

Compassionate conversations around mental health can be transformational. They can help break the cycle of isolation, loneliness, and despair, replacing it with a cycle of support, hope, and love. You have the power to be a monumental force in someone's life by simply being there, listening, and offering your understanding. Remember, you're not just lending a shoulder for someone to lean on—you're offering a sanctuary where they can find a moment of peace, clarity, and love.

By respecting your own boundaries and emotional well-being, you're setting an example, demonstrating that mental health is not just the concern of those who are suffering but is the collective responsibility of us all. Together, we can contribute to building a world where mental health discussions are not shrouded in secrecy or stigma but are welcomed as essential dialogues for our well-being.

This article is brought to you by Naluri. Naluri empowers you to develop healthy lifestyle habits, achieve meaningful health outcomes, and be healthier and happier through personalised coaching, structured programmes, self-guided lessons, and health tools and devices. Download the Naluri App today or contact for more information on utilising digital health coaching and therapy to become a happier, healthier you.

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