Story by Gisa Paredes, M.A RPsy
In the last two months I have been asked to speak at several events on various mental health topics. From identifying the presence of a disorder to supporting the supporter. I realized that whether we were the ones struggling or if we were faced with someone who was in fact struggling, the forums always ended with this one question: “what do we say to someone who is struggling with their mental health?” While there are many things already written out there, I thought I would share with you my 3 very simple go-to statements and why these can be helpful.
1) What can I do to help you?
This is a powerful question. Why? Because it allows the person to do one of two things – (a) it helps them think of a solution that will be most helpful to them or (b) it simply makes them recognize that they don’t have to go through it alone. Asking someone how you can help them is an open ended statement. There is room for possibility. We don’t need to think of how to solve it for them, they will let us know how we can best support what they are going through.
2) What are you thinking?
When someone is deep in and we can’t seem to read them, this is a good question to ask in order to get a gauge of where they are presently and if there are any thoughts on self-harm. When we ask this question, we create a space for them to share everything that’s eating them up inside – whether or not it makes sense. It can also help them arrange or put their thoughts in order / sequence. Don’t worry about not knowing what to say when they do open and tell you what’s going on inside them. You can always refer to question #1.
3) What is it you’d like to do?
Asking this question helps you get straight to finding out if there is any suicidal ideation. Know that it is okay to ask and to find out – this is how we save a life. Someone who is thinking of taking their own life may say so outright. In this case, please call for a professional immediately. Otherwise, this question can also help the individual come up with their own action plan to recover.
Asking these three very simple questions will allow you to see what is really going on. It also allows the person to think of ways in which they can build on their own resources. Know that all you have to do is LISTEN. And if at some point you feel like you may not know the answer to their questions, know that it is OKAY to say “I don’t know” and that “we can figure it out together”.