The ongoing coronavirus outbreak is making all of us worry to some degree, but for those with mental health issues, life may now feel completely overwhelming.
If you’re worried about someone, it’s important to check in on them; you don’t have to offer advice or solve the problem – a lot of the time, just listening is enough.
Offering your partner, relative, or loved one a theoretical shoulder to cry on will reassure them that they’re not alone. Time To Change have the following tips:
You might not be able to meet face-to-face, but picking up the phone, having a video call, starting a group chat or messaging someone on social media lets them know you are there to talk and ready to listen.
Whether you have a mental health problem or not, this will be a challenging time for our mental health and wellbeing. If someone opens up to you, remember that you don’t need to fix things or offer advice. Often just listening, and showing you take them seriously, can help someone to manage.
Ask how people are managing, and ask again if you’re worried they aren’t sharing the full picture. Asking again, with interest, can help someone to open up and explore what they’re feeling.
Time to Change offer lots of helpful tips and advice for those helping to support others. My recent favourite was the ‘Ask Twice’ campaign. It’s a simple but great way to show someone that you really care about how they’re feeling.
While it’s very understandable to feel concerned and want to help, it’s important to look after your own mental health and set boundaries.
If a loved one has lost interest in their hobbies, or their outdoor activities have now been prevented, it can be nice to suggest doing an activity together.
Whether it’s watching a film together, playing a board game, or just reading books, it can always feel encouraging to have some company. In their guide (written prior to COVID-19), Rethink Mental Illness writes:
“Diet, exercise and staying active are important for everyone. Staying active, if you have a mental illness can be especially important. It can help improve mood and can help with some of the side effects that medication causes. You could try to invite the person you care to go for a walk, swim or to the gym. It can be helpful for you as well to have a routine of getting out and about.
If the person you care for can’t leave the house you can ask them to do cleaning around the house. They can help prepare for meals or do home exercises. You can get free exercises on the internet or borrow DVDs from your local library. They may not want to do these and find them boring, but it is important to have some routine and responsibilities during the day. An unbalanced diet or eating too much or not enough can make getting better harder. You can ask your GP for a healthy diet plan which gives tips and recipe ideas to try out.”
Understandably these opportunities are now limited, but together you could work on a routine that will help keep you both healthy. Angela Cox wrote an article dedicated to creating a household communications plan, which can help guide you through routine and boundary setting.
Having a set time for going to sleep and waking in the morning, along with activities such as meal times and hygiene, can be beneficial for the whole household.
If you live with someone you care for, you might find some of their behaviour difficult or challenging. They might stay in bed for long periods of the day, not wash regularly, smoke a lot or not take their medication. Setting out household rules that everyone agrees to can help. It can be hard to get this to work at first but it is important to not give up. Some ideas could be that everyone:
• has to be out of bed by a certain time, for example 9.30am during the week and 11am on the weekend,
• must wash at least twice a week,
• is responsible for planning, shopping and preparing for meals,
• has to clean up after themselves, and
• has to do their own laundry and clean their room.
Everyone in the household should sign up to the agreements. You need to think about what will happen if people don’t follow the rules. It is important to stay calm but firm when you put the rules into effect and try to prevent arguments.– Rethink Mental Illness
If asking a loved one to create a routine with you feels daunting; another way to help can be suggesting SMART goals. These are a proven way for helping people to set small, achievable goals that will boost self-esteem and confidence, and you can even get involved yourself.
This goal can be anything, and it doesn’t matter how small it is. In fact, it’s really important that they are easily achievable. Below is an example from the University of Exeter‘s booklet ‘Goal Setting’, a valuable resource for anyone looking to set small goals that will help them take back control of their life.
By doing this together, you can help each other tick things off throughout the week/month.
The person you’re looking out for may be susceptible to negative self-talk such as “I should be able to do this anyway, why am I so useless”, etc (I speak from experience!) but this is where you can remind them that what they’re going through is real, illness is real, and adjusting the goalposts is absolutely okay.
Victoria Maxwell writes an excellent article all about the importance of setting small goals when depressed and anxious, which is insightful and full of helpful pointers.
You may want to be ‘all hands on deck’ when helping someone with their mental health, but this could become overwhelming for the person you’re looking out for, as well as detrimental to yourself. When approaching any of these techniques, make sure you’re not taking on too much:
• Set up some boundaries. You do this by deciding how much you can do and how much you want to do. Talk to the person you care for and tell them what you have decided. Remember, once you set up these boundaries it is important to stick to them.
• Talk about the skills the person you care for needs to focus on and agree goals. You can agree to show them how to do something and help them with it for a while until they are confident to do it alone. An example of this might be doing their own laundry or going to the shops.– Rethink Mental Illness
If you’re worried about the young people in your house, Happiful Magazine has articles specifically to help you talk with teens about the disruptions around coronavirus, support teenagers on the spectrum during the lockdown, and help children manage anxious thoughts.
If the person you’re concerned about doesn’t live in your household, it could be nice to schedule weekly phone/video calls. Lots of people have been hosting ‘pub’ quizzes, playing games consoles together (Call of Duty and Animal Crossing, anyone?), and even watching films together.
Booking something in the diary could give everyone involved something to look forward to, but even just proposing a FaceTime call to catch up is encouraging enough.
When chatting, it’s always good to ask open-ended questions and remember that you don’t need to solve their problems. Providing a space for listening is a great act of kindness; a lot of the time, people just need to offload.
Whatever you do, the fact you’re reading this shows you care, and that’s really important when looking out for someone.
Remember that it doesn’t matter how small the action is; whether it’s scheduling a cup of tea (in the house or over a videocall), lending an ear or eating dinner together, showing someone that you love them is a kindness in itself, and a huge act of showing someone you’re there to listen.
Before I leave you, I’ll be linking some fantastic resources down below from Solent Mind. They’ve created Mental Wellbeing Toolkits tailored towards separate issues to support those struggling with the coronavirus crisis. If you find them helpful, I’d love to know about it!
Have you been creative in your remote catch-ups with friends and family? Let me know in the comments!