You’ve probably heard the advice to check on your friends and reach out to those who may be struggling with their mental health. But that can be a daunting task. How do you reach out? What do you say? What if they don’t respond in a way you’re prepared for? Dr. Michelle Fong, Neuropsychologist with Pullman Regional Hospital’s Palouse Psychiatry & Behavioral Health, provides guidance on how to approach these encounters.
Mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression are common, with over 20% of US adults facing these challenges. It is likely someone you interact with daily is going through a tough time. Reaching out can be incredibly supportive; below are some tips that can help.
How do you start a conversation with someone who’s struggling?
Choose a private setting and ask for permission. “Meeting up in person is often the best way to convey your concern and support,” suggests Dr. Fong. If that’s not possible, video and phone calls are also alternatives. Dr. Fong cautions that “text messaging, while convenient, may not be the most effective way to communicate because of limited expression, delayed responses, absence of nonverbal cues, and other reasons.”
- Asking for permission is respectful and can help someone feel more comfortable. Try opening with lines like:
- “I’ve been thinking about you and wanted to reach out. Can we talk about what’s been on your mind?”
- “I noticed you’ve been going through a lot. Would it be ok if we sat down for a chat sometime?”
What do you do if you don’t get the response you were expecting?
“That’s tough,” recognizes Dr. Fong. There are multiple reasons this may happen. They may not be ready to seek help or discuss their struggles. “The hard truth is that they do not owe you the privilege of disclosure. You can consider letting them know that they are welcome to talk to you in the future if they choose to.”
You had a conversation with your friend who’s struggling… Now what?
Sometimes, all people are looking for is to be heard. “If they’re wanting more help, you can suggest they make an appointment with their primary care provider, or establish care with one if they haven’t previously,” notes Dr. Fong. “Additionally, if they are receptive, it may be a good idea for them to get connected with a therapist.”
Local resources for finding a therapist:
- Some primary care clinics offer short-term counseling with behavioral health specialists; consult your primary care provider to learn more.
- Search for a therapist online: https://therapists.psychologytoday.com
- The Palouse Resource Guide has a list of local mental health providers. While it’s not all-encompassing, it can be a great place to start: https://palouseresources.org/
- Ask your health insurance company for a list of covered therapists in your area- many insurance companies have online tools to search for covered care near you.
What do you do if you feel it’s a crisis situation?
Dr. Fong cautions that the information shared above does not necessarily apply to crisis situations. If there’s an immediate threat and a person is in danger, call 911. If the situation is not life-threatening, call or text 988- the nationwide 24/7 suicide and crisis line.