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How to Offer Practical Help to the Mentally Distressed

Based on an Institute of Mental Health (IMH) study conducted during the pandemic, 8.7% of the surveyed Singapore population met the criteria for clinical depression, while 9.4% met the criteria for anxiety. While mood and anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses, many other conditions are still difficult to talk about - some of these include bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), borderline personality disorder (BPD) and schizophrenia.

Spotting the Signs

It usually seems obvious when someone is going through a hard time but identifying the specific mental health problem can be a lot more challenging. At this point in time, it is more important to hold space for your family member, friend or colleague rather than force them into a diagnosis. It is untrue that mentally distressed people are withdrawn or socially awkward. In fact, a lot of people who are mentally distressed are highly functional and display no public symptoms.

It can come as a shock to loved ones when they admit their struggles and this is when it is most important to show them that they are loved, heard and supported.

Knowledge Eradicates Fear

Some common myths surrounding people who are mentally distressed include:

- Mental illnesses are uncommon

- People with mental illnesses are violent and dangerous

- Those who are mentally distressed are poor or less intelligent

- Stress causes mental illness

- Mental illnesses are not real medical illnesses

Reading up on mental illnesses and keeping an open mind that is free from judgment is one of the best ways you can help someone who is suffering from mental distress. Dispelling your own fears and meaningfully engaging with them while demonstrating that your care and concern are steadfast in spite of their situation is crucial in helping them dispel their own fears and potentially even stop them from spiraling further.

Offering Practical Help

Educate yourself by signing up to be a WSQ-Certified Training in Peer-to-Peer Mental Wellbeing Support @ Work and be equipped with psychological first-aid skills as you learn how to support your friends, colleagues or peers.

Other ways you can help:

  1. Uninterrupted time for you to have an honest conversation together

  2. Giving them the space to share what they are comfortable with

  3. Do not rush to label what they are feeling

  4. Keep your questions open-ended to encourage deeper sharings

  5. Encourage them to practice self-care

  6. Check in regularly - it can be as simple as reminding them to eat on time or to rest

  7. Listen carefully to what they tell you instead of jumping in to help them solve their issues

  8. Know your limits and gently refer them to professional help when necessary

  9. Always be clear that they are in charge of their journey

  10. Do not belittle or be dismissive towards their feelings

It can be frustrating, emotionally and mentally draining and stressful when trying to help someone you love. Do be mindful of your own mental health and speak to someone if you need to. Always remember that nobody should go through anything alone.

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