How do you recognize when someone needs support? Ideally, they would feel comfortable coming to you and asking directly for what they need. This can be easier said than done, however, which is why we created this guide to help all of us get a little better at communicating when we need something.
If someone you care about seems to be struggling but hasn’t directly come to you, don’t take it personally! Many barriers can prevent someone from letting themselves be vulnerable. If you aren’t sure whether or not you should step in, here are some tips for reading the situation:
1. Create opportunities to listen
In everyday life, we don’t typically create situations that invite vulnerable sharing. Sure, we may ask “how are you?” but how often do we actually expect a real answer? The best way to know if someone you care about is having a difficult time is just to listen! Go for a walk or set up a call and ask “how are you, really?” Make sure you have plenty of time and privacy for this conversation.
When you are talking with them, listen actively, and give your full attention. Don’t think about how you will respond when it’s your turn. Ask questions when something piques your interest or seems concerning. For example, if they mention off-hand that work has been stressful, ask them why. If you know from a previous conversation that they were nervous about an upcoming doctor appointment, ask them how it went. It means a lot to people when you show an interest in their lives and take the time to hear what’s really going on.
Through these conversations, if it seems like one or more areas of their life are difficult right now, ask them if they need anything. Specific offers can feel more helpful than the general “is there something I can do?” For example, “would it be helpful to have an extra set of hands when you move next month?” or “wow, that’s a lot going on this week. I have some time available — would it help if I brought over a meal tomorrow?” These offers don’t pass judgment or make sweeping generalizations about their life, but they can provide the support they need to get back on track.
One quick note here: you may find that these deeper conversations can feel heavy during this time when every aspect of life feels shaky. It helps to end conversations on a positive note. You could try sharing something you’re grateful for, setting up something to look forward to, or asking them to tell you more about something they mentioned was going well.
2. Notice changes
During times of increased stress or mental health challenges, we tend to put on a good show to save face with the world. Some things will slip through the façade, however, so it’s important to keep an eye out. When trying to recognize when someone needs support, ask yourself, have you noticed any changes in their personal hygiene? Spending habits? Alcohol consumption? When they talk about themselves, do they use more negative language or self-deprecating jokes? Do they spend their time differently? Do they still show interest in hobbies? Does their mood, personality, or energy level seem different?
These signs and more can cue you that something is up. You can also use these changes as a way to start a conversation. “I’ve noticed you’re not painting as much anymore. Is everything ok?” Be mindful of changes like hygiene, weight gain, or alcohol consumption that carry an additional stigma; they may not be the best conversation to start with and may lead the person to become defensive or embarrassed.
3. Walk through a day in their shoes
One of the best ways to recognize when someone needs support is simply empathy. As they tell you about their day-to-day life, put yourself in their position. What would it feel like? How would you be doing? What specific support would you appreciate? Using this perspective to offer support can also be a way to show them you would need help too, in their shoes. “I can’t believe you’re handling this so well! If it were me, I’d definitely be struggling. Do you want any help with ____?” Pride can be a tricky barrier when it comes to accepting help, so this helps take the focus off of them.
In the end, it’s better to have offered support, or at least made it clear that you care and are available if needed in the future than to hold back. Even if they aren’t ready to accept support, the extra communication will help them feel comfortable coming to you later, and it feels good to know people care about us, even when we’re not struggling.
For more content to help you recognize when someone needs support, check out our 5 Ways to Give Support and Supporting Loved Ones Through Mental Health Challenges. Thank you for being a light to those around you ♡
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