Psychology Month 2024: Week Four

Published On: February 22, 2024

This is the fourth instalment in CSCM’s Psychology Month blog series with Kevin Kristjanson. If you missed Week Three, you can find it here.

Supporting the People Around You

Every Canadian has someone in their life who has been touched by mental health challenges, whether it is a friend, family member, co-worker, or neighbour. Many people feel a strong desire to help, but don’t always know how. This week, we’ll learn how to support the people around you who are experiencing mental health challenges.

Broach the Conversation Gently

When initiating a conversation about mental health, it’s important to do so in a way that makes people feel safe and cared for, not trapped. Remember, it’s up to the other person how much they share with you. Think about when and where you’ll have the conversation, and who else may be present.

If you’re not sure what to say, begin by expressing your concern with reference to specific behaviours you’ve noticed. For example:

  • “I’ve noticed you haven’t come out with us the last few times, and I’m wondering if something’s wrong.”
  • “You’ve been quieter than usual lately. I’d love to help if there’s anything I can do for you.”
  • “You don’t seem like yourself and I’m worried about you. I’m here to listen if you want to talk.”

Empathy > Sympathy

Empathy is sitting together in the darkness, while sympathy is rushing to turn on the light. Trying to fix the situation or giving advice right away can leave people feeling like their emotions are being dismissed. Listen, listen, listen, and then listen some more. Try statements and questions like:

  • “It sounds like this has been [hard/scary/disappointing/discouraging/exhausting].”
  • “This is hard to talk about. Thank you for sharing with me.”
  • “Wow, there’s a lot that’s been on your mind lately. How can I better understand the impact it’s had?”

Don’t Promise Confidentiality

Many people wonder what to do if the person they’re concerned about asks them not to tell anybody else. This can put you in a difficult position if you must decide between keeping your promise and looking after someone’s safety. You may want to respond with something like, “I can’t promise to keep a secret because I don’t know what you’re going to say. You are important to me and I’d like to better understand how I can help.”

Connect with Other Supports as Necessary

If the person needs more support than you can provide, ask if you can help them connect with someone equipped to help.

“Thank you for sharing this with me. I think it would be helpful to talk with somebody who has more expertise in this area. Let’s [call/go there] together so I can find out how to best support you too.”

Check out our previous post about how to find a psychologist for more information. If someone is in imminent danger, call 911 or got to the nearest emergency room.

Next week: Issues Specific to Sports Psychology