Supporting Your Child

Many people experiencing a mental health problem will speak to friends and family before they speak to a health professional, so the support you offer can be really valuable.

What emotional support can I offer?

If someone lets you know that they are experiencing difficult thoughts and feelings, it’s common to feel like you don’t know what to do or say – but you don’t need any special training to show someone you care about them. Often just being there for someone and doing small things can be really valuable. For example:

  • Simply giving someone space to talk, and listening to how they’re feeling, can be really helpful in itself. If they’re finding it difficult, let them know that you’re there when they are ready.
  • Offer reassurance. Seeking help can feel lonely, and sometimes scary. You can reassure someone by letting them know that they are not alone, and that you will be there to help.
  • Stay calm. Even though it might be upsetting to hear that someone you care about is distressed, try to stay calm. This will help your child or family member feel calmer too, and show them that they can talk to you openly without upsetting you.
  • Be patient. You might want to know more details about their thoughts and feelings, or want them to get help immediately. But it’s important to let them set the pace for seeking support themselves.
  • Try not to make assumptions. Your perspective might be useful to your child or family member, but try not to assume that you already know what may have caused their feelings, or what will help.
  • Keep social contact. Part of the emotional support you offer could be to keep things as normal as possible. This could include involving your child or family member in family events, or chatting about other parts of your lives.

What practical support can I offer?

There are lots of practical things you can do to support someone who is ready to seek help. For example:

  • Look for information that might be helpful. When someone is seeking help they may feel worried about making the right choice, or feel that they have no control over their situation.
  • Help to write down lists of questions that the person you’re supporting wants to ask their doctor, or help to put points into an order that makes sense (for example, most important point first).
  • Help to organise paperwork, for example making sure that your child or family member has somewhere safe to keep their notes, prescriptions and records of appointments.
  • Go to appointments with them, if they want you to – even just being there in the waiting room can help someone feel reassured.
  • Ask them if there are any specific practical tasks you could help with, and work on those.
  • Learn more about the problem they experience, to help you think about other ways you could support them. Our website provides lots of links to information about different types of mental health problems, including pages on what friends and family can do to help in each case.

What can I do if someone doesn’t want my help?

If you feel that someone you care about is clearly struggling but can’t or won’t reach out for help, and won’t accept any help you offer, it’s understandable to feel frustrated, distressed and powerless. But it’s important to accept that they are an individual, and that there are always limits to what you can do to support another person.

You can:

  • Be patient. You won’t always know the full story, and there may be reasons why they are finding it difficult to ask for help.
  • Offer emotional support and reassurance. Let them know you care about them and you’ll be there if they change their mind.
  • Inform them how to seek help when they’re ready
  • Look after yourself, and make sure you don’t become unwell yourself.
  • Contact us for more help and support.

You can’t:

  • Force someone to talk to you. It can take time for someone to feel able to talk openly, and putting pressure on them to talk might make them feel less comfortable telling you about their experiences.
  • Force someone to get help (if they’re over 18, and it’s not an emergency situation). As adults, we are all ultimately responsible for making our own decisions. This includes when – or if – we choose to seek help when we feel unwell.
  • See a doctor for someone else. A doctor might give you general information about symptoms or diagnoses, but they won’t be able to share any specific advice or details about someone else without their agreement.

What if they believe things that seem very unusual or scary to me?

If someone is experiencing reality in a very different way from people around them, they may not realise or agree that seeking help could be useful for them. They may be experiencing psychosis, mania, hearing voices or feeling very paranoid. In this case, it can also be helpful to:

  • Focus on how their beliefs are making them feel (for example anxious, scared, threatened or confused), as these feelings will be very real.
  • Avoid confirming or denying their beliefs. Instead it can help to say something like “I understand that you see things that way, but it’s not like that for me.”

There are a lot of misunderstandings about what it means to experience psychosis. Lots of people wrongly think that the word ‘psychotic’ means ‘dangerous’. But it’s important to remember that in reality, very few people who experience psychosis ever hurt anyone else.

What can I do if it’s an emergency?

There may be times when your child or family member needs to seek help more urgently, such as if they:

  • have harmed themselves and need medical attention
  • are having suicidal feelings, and feel they may act on them
  • are putting themselves or someone else at immediate, serious risk of harm.

In this case:

  • If they are not safe by themselves right now – as long as you feel able to do so, you should stay with them and help them call 999 for an ambulance, or help them get to A&E. They may appreciate it if you can wait with them until they can see a doctor.
  • If they can keep themselves safe for a little while – you can get quick medical advice by calling NHS Direct on 111 (England) or 0845 46 47 (Wales), or you could help them make an emergency GP appointment to see a doctor soon. You can encourage them to call the Samaritans on 116 123 at any time of night or day to talk to someone, or try other telephone support services. It may also be helpful to remove things that they could use to harm themselves, particularly if they have mentioned specific things they might use. (See our pages on supporting someone who feels suicidal for more information.)
  • If you feel personally in danger right now, or that others are in immediate danger – you can dial 999 and ask for the police to help. You might feel worried about getting someone in trouble, but it’s important to put your own safety first.

If you’re not in a situation like this right now, but you’re worried someone you care about may experience a mental health crisis in the future, it’s a good idea to make a crisis plan with them to work out what steps you will take to help them in an emergency. Please contact us if you would like support with this or would like further information.

 

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