Aug. 8, 2022

How To Help Someone With Their Mental Health When You're Struggling Too

How To Help Someone With Their Mental Health When You're Struggling Too
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How can you help a loved one who is struggling with their mental health when you’re struggling too?

John shares helpful advice in providing comfort, reassurance, and compassion to your friends or family during bad days. 

Checking in on them is a great start and a good conversation can be encouraging.

Feelings are always valid, but coming up with a solution shouldn’t be your top priority. The best way to address grieving or anxious moments in life is to listen, to share what’s bothering you if you’re comfortable doing so, and seek to understand and be there for each other.


[0:24] How do you help your family and friends when you’re also struggling?
[1:57] It’s okay to deal with our emotions because we are humans.
[2:35] Empathizing is the first step.
[5:01] Don’t come up with solutions.
[6:15] Be quick to listen.
[7:49] The goal is to offer support.
[8:30] Our feelings are valid.
[10:13] How do you listen actively?
[13:00] Ask them about how they’re doing.
[15:05] Reassure them of your presence.
[17:54] What happens when you accidentally come up with a solution?
[19:17] Know where you are in your mental health journey.
[21:21] Be compassionate to yourself and to others.
[24:30] Subscribe to the podcast for similar episodes.

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Disclaimer: The Mental Health Today Show is for educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as therapy. If you are seeking therapy, please contact a licensed therapist for help.


From time to time, we have friends or family members that are struggling with their mental health. And so often we don't know what to say or how to help them. Cause most of you are not therapists. And so what do you do when you have a loved one or friend who is struggling with their mental health when you're struggling too, how do you help them with their mental health?

And that's what we're gonna talk about in this episode of The Mental Health Today Show coming up.

Welcome to The Mental Health Today Show, my name is John Cordray, and I am a licensed therapist and a host of this show.

I'm so glad that you're here. If you're new, welcome, glad have you. If you've been around for a while, I'm always happy that you're here as. Uh, make sure you share this or, uh, follow it, subscribe it on whatever podcast that you listen to. 

So today's the episode. We're gonna talk about how to help someone with their mental health when you are struggling to that's hard, isn't it?

It's hard to do much of anything when you're struggling with your own mental health, but then what happens if a family member or a friend who is really struggling with their mental health? 

And you wanna be there and support them, but you're struggling too. Maybe even with the same issues, maybe, maybe you have anxiety and your friend has, has anxiety, or maybe you have depression and their friend, or, or loved one has depression and, and, and you wanna help, but you're struggling yourself.

And, and so how do you know what to say or how do you know what to do. Because after all, you're not a therapist, right? You're probably not a therapist, but even if you are a therapist so often we're human too. And, and we have our own emotions to deal with. So, uh, we just have the better tools. We know the tools.

And sometimes though we have our own blind spots and that's actually a topic of another episode. But today I want to talk about how to help someone with their mental health when you are struggling to. 

And, uh, you're not always gonna have the right words to say you, you're not gonna necessarily know exactly what to do.

There's not really a playbook of knowing how to help somebody who's struggling, especially if you're struggling yourself. And I think the first step is to acknowledge that you, you don't have all the right words to say, you don't know. Every step to help, but you are there to listen. You can empathize and, uh, you can do some, a little bit of disclosure.

You can say, you know what? I don't have it all together. I'm struggling too, but I'm here for you. We're gonna get through this together. And I think that is the best thing that you can do and say, and your friend or your family member, your loved one. They're not going to expect you to know exactly what to say.

They're not going to expect you to know exactly what to do, because they don't know what they need. And sometimes somebody who is struggling with their mental health, they can't articulate what they need. And then really what they need is just you in their life. Whether it's a phone call, whether it's, uh, meeting them in person, they just need someone to be there.

And there is power in, in being present with somebody it's huge. You know, if you, if you have a, a loved one or a friend who's struggling and maybe they are a long distance, uh, hop on a video call, whether it's zoom or Google meet or some other video call and, and just say, Hey, let's get on. And let's chat.

Or at least, let's get on and call one another. And, and let me, let me just listen, what's going on in your life. And you can say up front, I don't have all the words to say, I don't know exactly what to do or say, but I am here for you. 

And so showing empathy is a huge, huge encouragement just to want to be there and listen.

And sometimes though somebody who's struggling with their mental health may not really want to. Or they may not really want to talk about the thing that they're struggling with and that's okay too. You could even say it's okay if you don't want to talk about it, let's just talk about something. Let's just talk about, you know, whatever it is that you have in common that you can talk about.

Or you can, you can talk about what's going on in your, in your life. But the one thing that's not helpful. What I want to encourage you to not do is to try to come up with a solution because people who are struggling with their mental health are yes, they want to feel better. But if they're telling you that they're not feeling good with their mental health, they're not asking for a solution.

They just want some validation and some. And if you go straight to the solution, Hey, you should try this. Hey, you should read this. You should talk to this person. Have you talked to a counselor? Those are well intended and you want to help, but it's not very helpful if that's the first thing that you say you're tempted to, because if you don't know what to say, it might help be helpful for you to try to come up with a so.

But that's for you. That's, what's helpful for you. That's not, what's helpful to the person who's coming to you with their struggle. So resist the temptation to come up with a solution right away and be quick to listen and slow to speak. If they're willing to talk be quick to listen and show empathy. Be quick to listen and show compassion.

Be quick to listen and offer your support and your presence. Not a solution. The solution might come later, but you want to show validation. You wanna validate how they feel because it's legit. And you want to let 'em know that you're there for them, period? No, there's no expectation in the conversation or expectation in the relationship.

You're just there for them. That means the world to someone who is struggling. And it's really, really hard because if you're struggling with your mental health as well, and perhaps you're struggling with your mental health because of this person that you're talking to, maybe it's a family member, maybe it's a child, maybe it's a spouse and they are depressed.

And they're coming to you and are talking about how they're feeling and they're in the dark place. And the very fact of what they're talking. It's putting you in a dark place, cuz you are afraid for them. You're fearful and you're anxious for what they're saying about their life and what they're thinking about.

And so it's very difficult to be able to be present and not come up with a solution, but that's what you have to resist. You have to resist talking to someone who is struggling with their mental health to make you feel better. That's not the goal. The goal is to offer support and show your support to the person who's coming to you and, and, and talking about their struggle.

So resist the temptation to go right to a solution. And you want to validate and how do you validate somebody? Well, validation is acknowledging that it's okay for them to feel the way they're. Because our feelings are, are legitimate. We have feelings. God gave us feelings as a human we anger, for instance, is not bad.

It's not a bad thing to be angry. It's not a bad thing to have feelings of sadness in grief, even worry. And anxiety is not always bad. Sometimes it's rooted in something. That hasn't happened yet. I talked about this on another podcast episode where our faulty thinking of what ifs can lead us astray with our feelings, but the valid, the, the feeling itself is valid, how you feel is valid.

And so we wanna validate that and say, you know what? The life sucks right now. I get it. It's hard. I can understand why you're stressed out. I can understand why you're depressed and sad. I can, I can understand why you're worrying about this without expectation without a solution. Right. 

So you're validating them, you're listening to them, but you're not trying to tell them what they should.

You're simply being there. You're simply listening to them, being a friend, be being the loved one, the support system that they need in that moment. Think about in your struggle. So if you're struggling with your mental health and you go to somebody and you open up enough to be able to share how you're feeling and what you're going through, and they automatically come up with, Hey, I think you should do this.

Hey, I think you should read this. It wouldn't feel right. Wouldn't feel good would it? And so when you show validation and you validate somebody for how they feel, you're acknowledging that they're a human being and that you are listening to them. Showing active listening is very, very important in every situation.

But especially when someone reveals that they are struggling with their mental. And you, you show that you're listening actively by responding to what they're saying, not coming up with a solution because when you go right to a solution, you're not really being present. You're thinking about the next step, instead of thinking about the very step that the person's revealing to you.

So being there using active listening, Responding to what they're saying, doing encouragement cues where like unite your head or give them a hug or just give them a compassionate look or responding and, and empathizing that, that must be really hard right now. And I can't imagine what you're going through, but I'm here for you and I'm not going anywhere.

That's the most encouraging thing that someone can say to somebody who's struggling with their mental. There might be somebody in your life. Who's struggling with their mental health, but they're not telling you, you just know, you can tell maybe the person's withdrawing and maybe this person is not likely to talk about their feelings, but you can just tell that they're struggling with their mental health, then what , because then they're not coming to you.

They're not revealing to you. Their struggle. You just know that they are going through it and you can see through their behavior and their actions that something is wrong with them. How do you bring it up without seeming like you're intruding on, in, on their feelings? Well, it really depends on the relationship we have with you with this person. Right? 

So you can comment on the observations that you're seeing. You can say, Hey, Hey, um, Sally, I can really tell. Something's up. What's going on? Tell me, tell me what's going on. I can tell you don't have to say exactly what they're doing. So if they're withdrawing from everybody, you don't have to point that out.

You can just say I notice something that's going on. I can tell, I know you well enough that something's going on with you. What's going on? And that's really all you need to say. And, uh, more, more than likely they're gonna tell you, oh, I just, I got in this fight with this, um, with my boyfriend and I'm just really, really down right now, or I just really got reprimanded at work and it's really getting me down or I'm really struggling because I made a mistake and I feel like I'm a failure.

And once you open the door and you're opening a door is a welcoming opening of the door, right? So you're going to them.  asking them and letting them know, Hey, they're I, I see you. And I can tell that something's wrong. I'm opening my door to support you. And, and an idea is you're not opening their door.

You're opening your door, opening their door, like intruding in on them. It's like, Hey, what, uh, you're doing something here. Uh, what you just said was rude, or you need to get your act together. That's, that's opening their door. It's intruding in on them. But when you come at the situation as warm and empathetic, you're opening your door, meaning that you're opening up space in your life for them.

You're not intruding on their space, big difference. And when you are able to be, uh, that warm and empathetic and opening your own door and allowing them to share what they're experiencing, they might be really mad. They might be mad at you. You may have said something to hurt their feelings or to offend them or got into an argument.

And they're really upset. Maybe they're sad. Maybe they're angry. Maybe they're depressed. Maybe they're worried about something that you said, and then if that's the case, you go to them and you acknowledge. So you validate and empathize with them, uh, validate how they feel and say, wow, you know, I'm really sorry that I made you feel that way.

You go to them with a very humble heart to be able to share and acknowledge that you offended them in some way, and you apologize and make amends and ask for forgiveness. So it's resolve. You see how that's so much different and, and how you come about this and how you talk to your loved one or a friend when they're struggling with mental health issues.

Even in the midst of when you're struggling too, it's really important to be able to acknowledge that you're, they're there for them and that you want them to talk to you and share with you, but it's also okay for you to talk about your you're struggling too. It's okay to admit. If you're going through it, a shared experience of, of a conflict or an event that happened, and, and you are feeling the same way that the other person is feeling.

So it's a shared event, acknowledge that a really good example would be if a loved one or a friend died and you're grieving. And so is the person you're talking to. And you're grieving about the same thing. It's good to talk about that as a shared experience and to say I'm hurting too.

And, uh, I need somebody and I need you in my life right now, especially and op you're opening your door, not opening their door. And, uh, so acknowledge to the person that you don't have it all together, acknowledge that you're struggling to. And, uh, you can, you can say, it's okay to say here's, what's been helping me, but that's different than offering a solution for them.

You know, you can say, you know, I'm really struggling with depression right now, too. I get it. And one of the things that's helped me is, uh, I'm actually talking to a therapist and that's been really great and it's helped me, but you're not suggesting that's what they, they. You're just simply sharing.

What's helping you let them come to that decision? So you don't wanna say I'm going to a therapist and so should you, right? Because that's going right to the solution and you in that moment, when you say, and you should too, you're opening their door, you're intruding on them. When you just simply say, I'm struggling with depression too, and I'm going to a therapist and it has been tremendous, a tremendous help for me.

You're opening your door, which is completely different. So it's think of it as you are the host of this conversation. And, uh, whenever you try to come up with a, a solution or problem solve, you're, you're intruding on the other person. Rather than being the host of the conversation. So you don't have to be a therapist.

You don't have to know exactly what to say or how to say it even, but you, there are steps that you wanna, there, there are certain things you, you do wanna do and certain things you don't wanna do now, what happens if you do come up with a solution?  what, what if you say already said it and you, you.

Realize, oh, I probably shouldn't have said it, but I did well then you just, you realize it may own up to your, uh, what you did and say, Hey, you know, I was just trying to help, but I realize that, uh, I'm going right to the solution. I'm trying to solve your own problem. And, and that's not really what I wanna do.

That's not my role in this. My role is to support you and to validate you and to, uh, help you through this, even though I'm struggling. And then you just admit it, acknowledge it if you need to seek forgiveness for it and move on and say, yeah, I that's, I I'm a very big problem solver and that's what I tend to do, but I don't wanna do that here.

And, uh, you can even say, Hey, if I ever say something that makes it sound like I'm trying to solve your problem or give you a solution, let me know. Because, uh, my intention, my heart is to help you and to, and encourage you. And, uh, I know when I need it, right. So then, then there, you're, you're being empathetic and you're saying, I need it too.

Uh, especially when you're struggling yourself, with your own mental health. And so, uh, it might be hard when someone comes to you and, uh, you're struggling and they're coming to you and, and they're letting you know that they're struggling. And you, you may not wanna say anything to 'em, you might wanna withdraw from them because of your own struggle and, and, and you need your own space too.

So you have to, you have to kind of know and understand where you are in, in your mental health journey. And if you're hurting so much that you feel like you're not able to give. You can say that to the person and say, I really, really care about what you're going through. And I am so sorry what you're going through, but right now I am going through a lot too.

And I, I don't even feel like talking and it's okay to say it that way because you are, uh, you are sharing the truth. You're being honest. And you can say, you know what, today I can't do it. I can't talk, I'm struggling to maybe tomorrow or maybe in a couple of days, let's, let's get together for coffee and let's just talk, you're setting boundaries in that case.

And, uh, you're, you're being honest with your struggle and that's perfectly fine. So we're gonna have people in our life, whether it's a family member. A child, a spouse, an aunt, uncle, mom, dad, grandma, and grandpa. We're gonna have friends who are struggling and whether they come to us or not with their struggle, we need to think about what it is that we can say and how to say it.

And think through before you talk to them and remind yourself, I'm not offering a solution here. I'm not going straight to problem-solving. I wanna validate and I want to affirm, and I want to show empathy during this time. I don't have to know all, all the things to say. I don't have to be a therapist.

But I, I do want to show kindness and love and support even when I'm struggling with my own mental health as well. And I think if you go about it that way, and, and that you are showing compassion towards yourself and compassion to those who are coming to you, that's gonna be the best thing that you can do.

You have a lot to offer somebody who's struggling with their mental health and that's just you, it's just you, that's all you need to. You don't have to, to be a therapist. You don't have to know everything to say. It's just you. And there's very much, uh, a power, very, very powerful to be present with somebody in the room, whether it's on the phone or video chat or in person.

That's very powerful. Just your presence there. Even without saying a lot of words. So I hope this episode has been helpful for you. And I know many of you have loved ones and friends who are struggling with their mental health and at the same time, you're struggling too. And I've had many people ask me, well, what do I do in this situation?

Uh, I have a friend who is in, uh, really struggling with social anxiety. How do I help them? I have, uh, a child who is talking. Self-harm and talking about even not wanting to live. What do I say? I, I get that a lot and, and again, show empathy, validate how they're feeling and let 'em know that you're not going anywhere.

I'm not gonna go anywhere. I'm here.  I'm always gonna be here. You've got me to be your support, but if you're struggling too, and you're not able to, at that moment. If you're not all able to open your door, so to speak, and be the host of the conversation. Let 'em know and just tell 'em I can't right now. I, I love you.

I care about you, but I'm just struggling so much right now. And, uh, I, I need to let's, uh, let's talk about it in a day or so. And, and, or you can say, give me some time to process what I'm going through. Maybe, maybe you're mad at them.  maybe you're really mad at them and, and you need to process through that and that's okay.

Just, uh, make sure you advocate for yourself and set those boundaries and follow through and just say, I'm really mad at you right now. I love you. But I'm really mad at you. I need a few hours to process what I'm going through and then let's come back and let's talk about it and resolve this conflict, or if you're really hurting and something happened to you and, and just say, I'm really hurting myself and I need some time to process what I'm going through, but let's make sure we come back and maybe go out to coffee or, uh, let's call, uh, in a, in a day or.

So, uh, always, uh, leave the door open, listen, validate, show empathy. Those are the most important things that you can do and say even when you're struggling. So, uh, I hope this episode has been helpful for you. And if it has let me know, I always love hearing from my listeners. If you are new to the show, make sure you subscribe to the podcast, to The Mental Health Today.

Show I am a licensed therapist. Uh, I've been a licensed therapist since 2007. I love it. And, uh, I'm now a, a remote therapist, so I do everything online, which is really cool. I do enjoy that. So, uh, I'm gonna let you go. And, uh, if you have a second, if you know how to do it, I'd love to get a rating from you.

For those of us who have podcast, uh, ratings and. Subscriptions are very, very important because I, I know for me, my mission for my podcast is to reach as many people as I can, to help them with their mental health. And I can't do it alone. I need, uh, as they say a village, right? You're part of the village.

And, uh, if this has been helpful for you, I'd love for you to go into your podcast app, whatever app that you listen to and give a rating and a review, man, that's so helpful. Because what happens when you do that? It, uh, tells, let's say it's apple, or, or if it's Spotify, uh, it tells your app that you are interested in this show and in it, uh, then the algorithms, it shows it to other people and other people can listen to it as well.

And that's what I want. I wanna help people, I wanna spread awareness of mental health. That's why I'm here on, on this podcast. 

All right. Well, that's all for today. I really appreciate that. You took some time to listen to this episode and I appreciate you so much. So until next time, take care of yourself.