Being a help to others

Sometimes we develop a trust where someone confides in us and even asks for help. It may also be that we notice that a person in our vicinity needs help and support before the person themselves realizes that he/she needs it. Being close to a person who is mentally ill or in a crisis can feel heavy and difficult to deal with. As a friend, relative, or fellow human being, it is almost impossible not to be affected in some way by what the other person is going through and it can be difficult to know how to be supportive.

What is important to think about? What can I do? What should I not do? There are no easy answers, but there are some things that can be good to think about. It can go a long way to just listen, without judging, and show that you are worried and care about the person in question. Other times, outside support is also needed.

When we feel bad, it is common to want to withdraw and many people think that it is pointless to tell others about their condition. On the other hand, being able to talk to someone else about how you are feeling is important so as not to feel alone in your experience and feel even worse. If we meet a person who is not feeling well, a first step can be to encourage the person to talk to a friend or relative about their situation and about their mood.

If it is not certain that the person has family, friends, or others around them that they can talk to, then it may be a good idea to encourage the person to seek professional support. This can, for example, mean contacting a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist. Maybe it is you who is the close person that the person turns to? Listening and trying to understand how the other person feels is in itself a good support, but if you feel that what you can do is not enough or feel that it is too difficult to handle, it can also be good here to encourage the person to seek professional support.

If the person feels very badly, is unable to take care of themselves or any children involved, has suicidal thoughts or expresses a desire to harm themselves or others, more urgent care is necessary. Then you turn to emergency psychiatry, social services, or the police. You will find the telephone numbers on the Student Health Service’s crisis page.

People with mental illness can, for various reasons, find it difficult to seek help themselves. You can then be a support by providing contact information, help to call, and perhaps accompany to a possible emergency visit. Once the person has a healthcare contact, it is important to try to transfer the responsibility to those with professional training.

Some important things to keep in mind:

  • Dare to ask how someone is feeling! Asking and listening to the answer can be the most important help.
  • Do not take on too much. Set limits on what you should do yourself so that you do not take too much personal responsibility for how someone else feels. If it becomes too much, it can lead to you also feeling badly. It is, therefore, important that you get enough recovery to be able to support the person.
  • Try to think: "Help to self-help or to another help". Remind the individual of their own social network/resources and/or if a guide is needed to seek professional help.
  • Talk to others and seek support for yourself if you have witnessed or experienced difficult things.
  • Remember that information about an individual who is feeling unwell is sensitive information. For example, call the Student Health Service or another support body to ask your questions rather than writing the questions or any personal information in an email.
  • If you are unsure of what to do – feel free to call the Student Health Service's telephone counselling and consult with us.

Last modified: