Supporting someone with mental ill health.

How should we interact with someone who has a mental illness?

Life can be great but sometimes not so much. Things that happen to us in our day to day life can appear to be out of our control. It does not matter who you are or what you do you are not immune to life taken a turn for the worse. However, whilst some people take a bad situation on the chin and move on quickly, others will stay in a bad place for a lot longer. Work, home, money, relationships, anything can trigger negative thoughts, stress, anxiety or periods of depression.

You may then fall into this horrible cycle of mental illness and you may feel there is nowhere to go. You may hide yourself away and not see anyone, not wanting to share your problems or you may put on a brave face whilst fighting the illness on the inside. Whether we like it or not there is a lot of ignorance with regards to mental illness, we are afraid to talk about it and admit we have it. There is a certain stigma attached to admitting you may have a mental illness and then seeking the correct professional support.

Are mental health problems increasing?

According to Mind – the mental health charity, approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year

In England, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week

The overall number of people with mental health problems has not changed significantly in recent years, but worries about things like money, jobs and benefits can make it harder for people to cope. 

It appears that how people cope with mental health problems is getting worse as the number of people who self-harm or have suicidal thoughts is increasing

How common are specific problems?

Every seven years a survey is done in England to measure the number of people who have different types of mental health problems. It was last published in 2016 and reported these figures:

Generalised anxiety disorder - 5.9 in 100 people

Depression - 3.3 in 100 people

Phobias - 2.4 in 100 people

OCD  - 1.3 in 100 people

Panic disorder - 0.6 in 100 people

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - 4.4 in 100 people

Mixed anxiety and depression - 7.8 in 100 people

Source –

Are people with mental ill health more vulnerable?

Yes is the simple answer, having a mental illness may lead to the individual becoming susceptible to crime, debt, drug and alcohol abuse and other illnesses. There may be the additional increased risk of

  • self harm / suicide

  • being a victim of crime (particularly hate crimes / incidents)

  • exploitation

Recognising when someone may have mental illness

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is a training course which teaches people how to identify, understand and help someone who may be experiencing a mental health issue. MHFA trains instructors who then deliver the training to individuals and the private and public sector. However, we can all look out for others and help those around us, whether this is a colleague, friend or family member. If any of the following appear in someone you know talk to them, listen and help them to seek professional support.


Do they look ill, injured, unsettled, anxious/ what is there demeanour?

Is there a physical problem, bleeding, panic attack?


Are they excitable, irrational, manic, slow, furtive?

What are they doing and is it in keeping with the situation?


Is their speech slurred, slow, fast?

Are their eyes glazed, staring, dilated/ what is their body language and are they displaying any subtle signs of stress or fear?


Are the circumstances unusual or out of the ordinary.


Is there a risk of danger / harm to themselves or another?

Want not to say to someone who has mental illness

When you do talk to someone who may have mental illness there are certain things that the person will not want to hear.

  • Snap out of it

  • It’s all in your head

  • Stop whinging

  • You don’t seem unwell

  • Have you ever thought of trying this, that, the other

  • You don’t need medication

  • You need to be honest

  • Get a good night sleep and it will pass

  • That’s quite common isn’t it?

  • Time is a healer, it will get better

Instead support and listen, be there for the person, take them to see their GP/therapist and wait for them. Do not patronise or give bad advice and once the person does obtain professional support and is on the road to recovery the following skills may assist them to curtail stress and anxiety.

  • Journaling – Write down anxious thoughts, taking these from the mind and onto paper can reduce anxious feelings

  • Support – Create a list of people you can call, text or meet up with when you are felling anxious

  • Self-care – Taking care of yourself is important and can help manage anxiety

  • Sleep – Try to get a good night’s sleep, empty your mind and re-energise. Using an app like Headspace can really help.

  • Exercise – Physical activity can reduce stress and anxiety. When you are feeling anxious go for a swim, run, brisk walk or visit the gym. Exercise releases chemicals in the brain that can help to lift your mood and make you feel good.

  • Breathing – Practice breathing and mindfulness exercises, start yoga and meditation, learn to slow down your mind.

  • Listen – Listen to a podcast, audio book or music playlist as this can take your mind of anxious thoughts and improve your mood.

So help others who may need assistance by listening, talking, encouraging and supporting them.

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Paul Brown – Cognitive Behavioural Life Coach & Personal Wellness Coach

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