According to Mind mental health charity (mindorg.uk), around one in four people in the UK experience mental health problems each year. One in every 17 people in Great Britain have diabetes, one in seven couples struggle to conceive, and according to Cancer Research UK (cancerresearchuk.org), half of us will be diagnosed with cancer in our lifetimes. Thanks to the amazing work of the NHS, we’re diagnosing things more accurately and prescribing more advanced medicine, but we often despair as a friend or family member when it comes to emotionally supporting someone with their mental or physical health.
Knowing how to talk to someone who’s mentally ill is a great way to allow them a platform to express their emotions. It’s important to understand which words or phrases are likely to make them feel shut down, as we often close the conversation about how somebody’s feeling without even realising. “It’s crucial to remember that depression isn’t a choice,” says Abie Taylor-Spencer, medical technician at Smart TMS (smarttms.co.uk). “A person can have everything that may make someone else happy, but it makes no difference to how they feel – they’re still mentally unwell, and telling them they should be grateful is unsupportive.” You don’t have to offer a solution to their troubles there and then, just learning to listen and ensure you’re not bringing the focus of your conversation back to yourself is a great first step.
2. Cancer diagnosis
Coming to terms with the ‘C’ word can often seem an impossible task. Whether it’s terminal or treatable this term often carries with it a grey cloud of despair and panic. Anger and frustration are common products of upsetting diagnoses. Cancer charity Macmillan (macmillan.org.uk) advises “if your loved one is troubled, reassure them that it’s okay to cry. Sometimes, their emotional distress may be directed at those closest to them, but it’s important to try not to take things personally. It’s best to let go of small arguments and talk about it when you’re both calm. Avoid using all or nothing words like ‘always’ or ‘never’.”
Do you feel as though you’re sitting back and watching a loved one run themselves – full pelt and having lost control of the brakes – into the ground? Over-working and not coming up for air is frighteningly common in the current social climate. We’re working longer hours, for less money, in a more difficult economic environment than previous generations. With redundancies rife and mortgage rates increasing, it’s no wonder that 85 percent of UK adults are experiencing stress regularly (forthwithlife.co.uk). To help a friend or partner who is visibly strained, we often prescribe a good dose of vitamin A(lcohol). This may be a quick fix for the night, but will only make things worse. Treat them to a pamper session and a night in with your company – relaxing while socialising is far more likely to allow them to truly unwind than a night full of over-indulging in depressive substances!
4. Disordered eating
We’ve all been there – it’s a cold and miserable Sunday evening, you’ve had a tough weekend and there seems no simpler solution than to reach for the chocolate stash. Changing our eating habits to reflect our mood is extremely common. However, it’s important to notice when things are getting out of hand. Hoarding food, eating secretly, going to the toilet straight after meals and lying about how much you consume are all signs of disorders. For more information on identifying these characteristics, visit beateatingdisorders.org.uk. One thing you can do to help if you’re concerned is go grocery shopping with the sufferer. This may allow you to introduce new foods that they’re willing to eat (in the case of restrictive sufferers), and discourage them from buying food to binge on (in the case of binging disorders). Keeping meal times and the dining environment consistent is crucial.
5. Fertility issues
“Fertility issues can test even the strongest of relationships,” explains Dr Geetha Venkat, director of the Harley Street Fertility Clinic (hsfc.org.uk). “They can cause anxiety and stress, lead to isolation and make being around others with children impossible, due to feelings of frustration and resentment. You might want to offer well-meaning advice, talk about something you’ve read in a magazine or use clichés to ease the pain, but unless you’ve walked in their shoes, it’s best to leave all of these at the door.” Don’t tell them about all the great things they can still do if they haven’t got kids (or all the things you miss because you do). Don’t tell them to be grateful for what they have, or invalidate their feelings by saying it could be worse. Never suggest that this is somehow how it’s meant to be, that the universe may have a reason for this. Most of all, don’t tell them the story of someone you heard about who stopped trying and got pregnant, because they just relaxed! Be positive and encourage them not to give up, if it’s what they truly want.
6. Social anxiety
Social anxiety fundamentally stems from a person feeling unsafe, so it’s something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. “Be understanding,” says Fiona Lamb, clinical hypnotherapist (fionalamb.com). “Any anxiety is fear. Be mindful that, even though it may be frustrating, small things can cause someone to feel very stressed and panicky. Encourage them to try and push their boundaries but don’t get too upset if you can’t help – this may be a job for a professional. Be patient. People will get help when it’s right for them, so don’t be pushy. If they seem willing, try taking them to a family support session. If you learn coping mechanisms with them then you’ll be able to remind the sufferer of them in panicked situations. Social anxiety can be very lonely and isolating, but with love, support and care, people do recover. Keeping a strong connection with those that they trust is very important.”
7. Type two diabetes
“A new diagnosis of any illness is upsetting and confusing,” explains Dr Julianne Barry, a general practitioner at London Doctors Clinic (londondoctorsclinic.co.uk). “Lifestyle modifications are essential with type two diabetes as they can greatly impact sugar control, weight loss and cardiovascular risk. Discuss these adjustment plans and, if it’s realistic, (where you can) join them in their fitness and diet routine. This may also prove beneficial to you!” Don’t become the food police – help with making healthy meals but don’t scold them. How did nagging from your mother make you feel growing up, did it motivate you to make a positive change, or did it occasionally turn into feelings of resentment? Stay calm and be patient with episodic slip-ups.
Words by Florence Reeves-White, Editorial Assistant