10 October, 2023

How to be a mental health supporter

Illustration showing two young people sitting on a bench together and talking.

We look at what mental health means and the ways we can best support people going through a mental health difficulty.

Here, the team in Willow Grove Adolescent Unit at St Patrick's Mental Health Services (SPMHS) outlines some information for young people around what mental health is, how we can support our mental health in everyday life, and ways we can support someone experiencing a mental health difficulty.

What is mental health?

What is mental health?

You are probably familiar with the term “mental health"; you might have heard your friends discuss it, watched YouTube videos that relate to it or heard it mentioned in school.

But what exactly is mental health?

Mental health is described as a state of wellbeing that helps us cope with the normal stresses of life. Mental health is just as important as our physical health; if we don’t feel like ourselves, it can have the same negative impact as if we had pain in our physical body.

You might be surprised to learn that our mental health is not fixed; it is a spectrum - it can change!

What can you do to help support your mental health in our everyday lives?

Don’t forget - small changes can have a big impact. There are a few things we can do to give our mental health a good base.

  • Be organised to feel calmer throughout the day; for example, packing your school bags the night before or writing your homework list down.
  • Manage your stress levels in day to day life. So, for example, if you find you can’t sleep after being on your phone late at night, try and reduce your screen time before bed.
  • Practise meditation and mindfulness, or just simply focus on your breathing. There are lots of helpful resources on our website and YouTube channel.
  • Have fun and do the things that you enjoy, such as exercise, connecting with nature, or taking up a hobby. These can be done solo or with a group of friends or family.
  • Spend time with your friends, families or pets. Pay attention to what makes you feel good!
  • Talk about your emotions and feelings with someone your trust. It’s good to have a ‘go to person’. This could be a friend, teacher, mentor or parent or guardian.
  • Focus on the good things in life and keep a gratitude journal. Sometimes, moving your attention to something that made you smile or laugh that day can help lift your mood.
  • Be mindful of time spent on social media. Social media apps are built to keep you scrolling, but do try and take some time away; those updates will still be there and you might feel the better for getting some reduced screen time. Why not try reading in bed instead?

Taking care of your physical health by eating healthily, staying hydrated, moving enough throughout the day and getting a good night's sleep is also important.

It can sometimes feel hard to stay on top of this, but establishing a small routine can help you build good habits.

How can you best weather the ups and downs in your mental health?

Remember, most people will experience mental health challenges or concerns at some point in their lives. We can sometimes find our mental health is low, dark, and sometimes even a little scary, but it's important to remember that your mental health can improve after experiencing difficult times.

If you are experiencing mental health difficulties, it’s important to reach out to a trusted adult or family member about how you are feeling. Talking about how you are feeling can really help.

How can you support someone who is experiencing a mental health difficulty?

How can you support someone who is experiencing a mental health difficulty?

Why should you look after yourself?

Sometimes, you may be in a situation where a family member or friend is experiencing a mental health difficulty.

This situation can be very stressful. It’s important not to neglect yourself. Putting yourself first is not selfish, and you won’t be able to help someone if you’re not feeling your best and looking after yourself.

If you are supporting someone, you may feel like you are trying to balance a lot, with trying to keep up with school work, seeing your friends and family, and looking after yourself. Remember, self-care is important: it’s very important to keep a balance and make sure your own needs are met. If you are feeling overwhelmed, it’s good to talk to someone you trust, like a parent, teacher or a friend.

How do you know if a friend or loved one is struggling?

If you think a friend or loved one is struggling, look for changes in their behaviour. You may notice that they don't seem like themselves. They may have lost weight, seem tired a lot, or avoid social gatherings.

How do you approach it with them?

You could check in with them and let them know you are there if they want to talk. You could drop them a text to check in or else ask do they want to go for a coffee or a walk.

How do you know if the situation needs urgent help and attention?

If someone is talking about harming themselves or ending their life, this should always be taken seriously. Encourage them to tell an adult. If they don’t agree, it is really important that you tell an adult about the situation. It is not a betrayal; it is a very serious situation that would require urgent attention. It’s the best thing you can do for them as a friend.

How can you best offer support?

If a friend or loved one confides in you that they are experiencing a mental health difficulty, here’s a few things you can do to be supportive:

  • Listen closely to what they are saying to you
  • Use language to show them you support what they are saying: let them know you understand what they are going through is really tough and that you are sorry that they are feeling that way
  • Don’t promise to keep this information a secret; they may need urgent help, so you could help them identify a parent or trusted adult who they could talk to or offer to come with them if that would help.

If you know someone is going through a rough period, you can continue to:

  • Check in with them and let them know that you are there for them
  • Encourage them to practice self-care
  • Listen; this the best thing you can do
  • Help them make a plan to help them through the time or get the support they need.

More information and supports

More information and supports

If you have concerns about your mental health and wellbeing or need information on how to support a friend or loved one, the first step is to talk to an adult or parent you can trust.

You can also speak to your GP or contact organisations like Childline or the Samaritans.