MENTAL HEALTH WEEK 2020: HOW TO HELP SOMEONE IN DISTRESS
Mental Health Week 2020 occurs from Saturday 10 October to Saturday 17 October 2020. Mental Health Week aims to raise awareness about mental health and to increase the mental wellbeing in WA communities.
This year, we have decided to put together some practical tips about how to help those around you impacted by mental ill-health. In this blog post we discuss how to help someone who is experiencing distress, including panic attacks, delusions and depression. It can be difficult to know what to say, do, or how to help someone experiencing distress, so we hope that these tips will help you feel prepared and informed.
What to do when someone has a panic attack
A panic attack can be a brief episode of intense anxiety, which causes a sense of fear, racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness, trembling and muscle tension This is often experienced by people living with anxiety. However, anyone can have a panic attack or feel very anxious at times.
It can be overwhelming if someone close to you has a panic attack and you may not be sure what to do. Here are some helpful tips.
- Ask them “Are you having a panic attack? Have you had one before?” Be aware that at first, they may not be able to talk and you will have to sit with them, allowing them to settle, before they can answer you.
- Reassure safety. In a calm voice, reassure them that they are safe and that you are here with them. Say, “You are safe. I am here with you. This will pass.” Keep reassuring them in a calm voice.
- Focus on solid things. Ask them to focus on something. You could ask them to look into your eyes, feel the chair against their back, the floor below their feet. Invite them to focus on the green grass, a tree, a wall or something else that will connect them to solidity.
- Professional support. Lastly, recommend they seek professional help if they don’t already access support. You could offer to accompany them to the GP to get a mental health plan or referral.
How to support someone who is experiencing delusions
Delusions are when someone sees, hears or feels something that isn’t there.
You may feel powerless if someone close to you is experiencing a delusion and believes it is real. It is important for a person who experiences delusions to seek professional help. However, we have some useful tips for when you first encounter delusions.
- Understand that it is real to them. It is important to recognise that the delusions and hallucinations are very real to the person.
- Try to stay calm and validate any part of the delusion that is real. For example, depending on the situation, you could say: “Yes, there was a doctor at the nurse’s desk, but I did not hear them talking about you.”
- Do not maintain that what they are thinking is wrong. Avoid overreacting or denying their experience. Don’t say things like “What are you talking about?” “You’re being crazy!”
- Listen quietly and don’t debate the delusion. Do not expect that rational thinking will influence their delusions. It is not helpful to debate what they are experiencing.
- Try not to take their accusations personally, even if they are directed at you. Let the person know that you recognise the feelings that can be evoked by the delusions. For example, you could say: “It must feel very frightening for you.”
- Seek professional support. Offer to take them to a doctor or the ED, depending on the severity. You can also call the Mental Health Emergency Response Line 1300 555 788.
What to do when someone is experiencing depression
When a person you love is experiencing depression it can be hard for the people around them to know what to do or how to support them. Here are some tips.
- Listen: Feelings of depression, numbness and apathy can develop for many reasons. Encourage them to talk about how they feel and what they are experiencing. Often, we try to give advice or say something supportive. Try to avoid clichés like: “Just look on the bright side!” or “things could be so much worse!” Advice is not what they need, it’s a listening ear. Let them know that they are not alone with their feelings, they are cared for and loved and they don’t have to go through this alone.
- Acknowledge and Validate: Acknowledge how they feel and let them know that whilst it is hard, it is okay to feel this way. Validate their feelings by saying things such as “I can see you are extremely sad at the moment”, or “this is really hard for you.”
- Professional support: People experiencing depression often feel alone, disconnected and that they are the only one feeling this way. They struggle to see that things will change for the better and have a lack of hope for the future. it. Nothing is less true. Depression is one of the most common mental health challenges and recovery is possible with professional help. Encourage your family member or friend to visit their GP for a mental health plan or search for a nearby service online.
- Exercise: Encourage them to engage in physical exercise at least for 30 minutes a day. It could be a gentle walk, a run, a bicycle ride or even just a dance in the living room to their favourite song – anything that gets them moving! Exercise has been proven to decrease feelings of depression.
- Hobby: Encourage them to engage in an enjoyable activity. Find something they enjoy or rediscover an old hobby and encourage them to do it every day for at least 10 minutes.