This Blog Post has been written by Fiona's friend, Dr Rebecca Ker of Carlton Psychology in Farnham, Surrey.
I am a psychologist and work with people with a range of difficulties. In my clinic, there is no ‘normal’ symptom of despair but in every case, asking for help has involved overcoming the fear of how they might be experienced.
My clients demonstrate courage and trust and remind me what it is we are asking of someone when we ask them to share their most private thoughts with us. Supporting loved ones who might be struggling involves gentle support and persistent kindness.
When asked how to advise how people can look out for their friends during these strange times, and specifically, signs that people might be struggling, the simple answer is ‘kindness’. It’s this years theme for ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’ and never more important than during these strange times.
How Can You Help Your Friend?
In terms of signs a friend may be struggling, there is no one-size fits all answer. We react to stress and low mood with personal reactions and coping. I suspect each of you is better placed to comment on what they would consider a ‘red flag’ for the people that they know well. For some, struggling involves busying themselves with every job they can find to distract themselves from their thoughts, whilst others might struggle to get out of bed. Some start to control as much of their environment as they possibly can in these uncertain times, be that food, exercise or their routine, whilst others might find themselves over-eating, drinking too much, neglecting their self-care or struggling to find the energy to do the smallest of task. Some become irritable or angry, some become passive and lethargic and others try desperately to please the people around them. Some will experience the urge to self-harm, some will experience confusion or dissociation, others will mask their difficulties incredibly convincingly.
Stress and low mood are part of the human experience. There should be no shame in talking about these emotions and yet we do find it difficult to feel vulnerable. During a global pandemic, it is more important than ever to remind each other that it ok to experience a range of emotions whilst we process the implications of weeks and weeks isolated from life as we knew it. We are all experiencing significant changes to our daily life and experiencing a collective trauma of a rather abstract threat. We have no framework or past experience to draw upon and no timeline to plan for. Social connection is incredibly important for our mental health. Rethink, a mental health charity, have stated that 79% of people living with mental illness have said there symptoms are worse during the restrictions associated with Covid-19.
This experience of Covid-19 is completely different from one household to the next, and the signs someone is struggling to cope are as varied.
In very general terms, some clues that a loved one is struggling may involve:
- Withdrawing from contact and connection – during periods of isolation this is particularly hard to monitor but a lack of willingness to answer the phone or reply to text messages may be a sign that a person is struggling
- Complaining of constant tiredness
- Difficulty remembering or concentration on things
- An increase in maladaptive coping strategies like drinking, drug taking etc
- Changes in mood (becoming more irritable, angry, sad or other subtle changes)
- An increase in risky behaviours
- Difficulty speaking, thinking clearly or making decisions
- Moving slowly or being restless or agitated
- Changes in behaviour (less energy, lack of interest in things they usually enjoy)
- Changes in sleep
- Changes in appetite
If you are concerned, be honest about your concerns - encourage loved ones to talk. Normalise their feelings- you feel them too. Encourage self-care and activities that are possible that might help distract them. It is important to emphasise the point that no person is responsible for another’s mental health, but if you are concerned about a loved one there are lots of places to seek information and guidance. Kindness and human connection are at the heart of all strategies to help friends and family during these strange times:
- Reach out – message, call, email in the place of face-to-face contact.
- Reach out again (a supportive text message, note or email goes a long way)
- Reinforce the message it is ok to not be ok
- Be willing to listen
- Be curious and non-judgmental
- Don’t rush in with solutions. You don’t need to have all the answers but be willing to look for help together
- Be aware of the support services that are available and encourage a person to get help
The limited research from the last few months suggests that there is an increase in people struggling with mental ill-health, however there has also been a decrease in help-seeking behaviour.
There are lots of amazing helplines and services that are open:
- Samaritans Confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair.
- Papyrus Young Suicide Prevention Society 0800 068 4141. They have a number for parents/professionals concerned about a young person too.
- CALM is the Campaign Against Living Miserably, for men aged 15-35. Website: www.thecalmzone.net
- National Domestic Violence Helpline freephone 0808 2000 247
Your local NHS service will be able to highlight what is available in your area. Call 111 or your GP for more information. It is important to contact emergency services if you feel a person may be unsafe.
Our practice is based in Farnham and is home to several psychologists with a range of specialisms. We are open, albeit online or on the phone temporarily, and keen to continue to support the mental health and emotional well being of our community. There is a list of resources and helplines on our website (www.CarltonPsychology.co.uk). Please get in touch if you would like to speak with a psychologist.
Stay safe and be kind.
8 Carlton Yard,
Victoria Road - Central Car Park
Carlton Psychology is a practice of registered health professionals – passionate about delivering a high standard of psychological therapy, training and supervision. At Carlton Psychology we only work with professionals we trust implicitly – the same individuals we would recommend to our own friends or family. All of our affiliates are trained at masters or doctorate level and are highly experienced.