At some point in our lives, we’ve all come across an individual experiencing a mental health issue. Keeping with the theme of suicide prevention, which is the focus of World Mental Health Day on October 10th, I’d like to highlight ways that you can recognize the signs of a mental health issue, what you can do to help, and how to determine the right time to reach out.

Recognizing the signs

Although the signs of a mental health issue vary, many individuals exhibit very distinct changes in their personality. Elevated levels of anxiety, withdrawal from activities they normally enjoy, prolonged sadness, and an inability to deal with daily problems or activities are all identifiable signs that an individual’s mental health may be suffering.

If you notice any of the above indicators, I suggest reaching out to that individual. Offering to take them out for coffee, or simply letting them know that you’re there for them can sometimes make a world of difference.

The next steps

When emotional support isn’t enough, I recommend looking for resources that may be helpful to the individual in need, from support groups to information regarding specialized counsellors. This may include learning more about the problem they are experiencing, going with them to appointments, or offering to help them complete daily tasks.

I also suggest reaching out to your Employee or Student Assistance Program (E/SAP) for more information about what you can do to help. Combined with your efforts, their resources, such as their counselling services, can make a substantial impact on the life of the individual who is suffering.

What if they don’t want to get help?

No matter how good your intentions are, you cannot force an individual to seek treatment. Some individuals may not be open to receiving counselling help because they: 1) may be in denial about their mental health (eg. “I don’t need counselling”), 2) do not feel ready to seek counselling (eg. “I’ll know if and when I need counselling”), and 3) may not believe in counselling (eg. “only crazy people go to counselling”).

In my experience, I’ve found that an individual is most prepared to receive treatment once they have come to accept that they need help. This is a most important first step. Through patience and compassion, you may encourage an individual to seek treatment, to help them from self-harm, or contemplating suicide. Make your time available to be supportive, encouraging, and facilitative until your friend or loved one is connected to help.

In those circumstances where a personal crisis may put an individual at risk of harming themselves (or others), do not hesitate to step in. I urge you to call 911 immediately and assist them in getting to a local hospital, or to a nearby crisis centre.

It can be difficult to watch an individual who you care about suffer, but supported with the right resources, you may find that encouraging them to seek help for their mental health and wellness is a worthwhile endeavour.

Regardless of whether you personally know an individual who is currently suffering a mental health issue, or if you encounter an individual the future, I encourage you to be an ally to them. Consider guidance through your E/SAP to boost the likelihood that you will be successful in helping someone in need. For more information on how you can provide support, contact your E/SAP provider today.