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When someone you love needs help

At some time or other, we might notice that someone we love or care about, be it friend, family member, partner, grown up child, or even a colleague, is struggling. It can be a very basic response to desperately want to help them, and it can be very difficult to feel like you can’t, or that they aren’t doing what you want them to, or know it will help. Here are some tips to help you, if someone you love needs help. It’s also worth mentioning that this doesn’t apply for children or those you are responsible for- so this is for adults who have the mental ability to make choices themselves.

~Work out what is your want for your loved one, and his/her want for him/herself– It’s very natural to want to give advice, or tell someone what to do, or to take charge in a situation like this, but, often, whilst those things come from the best place, it may not actually be what the person wants for himself. It might be that you think that they need to go to the doctors (and maybe they do), but the person may disagree. They may be too scared, or not feel the doctor can help, or need reassurance it’s ok, or believe that something other than doctors can help, or not feel there is a problem, or any host of other things. It can make it much easier if you follow what your loved one wants, as you’ll both be on the same page. Trying to help, but being on a different page from your loved one can lead to both of you feeling frustrated, or alienated from each other, or isolated, and other distressing feelings too.

~Listen– Really listen to your loved one (if you’re mentally/emotionally/physically able to). This clearly links to the point before. Once you have worked out what you want for your loved one, and can ‘park’ that, it frees you up to listen. Try not to add interpretations, or put words in their mouth, just hear what it is they want to tell you- both said and unsaid.

~Respect your loved ones choices– This can be incredibly hard, especially if your loved one is making choices you would consider to be unwise, or that you wouldn’t make, but they have the right to choose what they do.

~Support, Empower and Enable someone (rather than disable)- It’s very easy to start doing things for someone, and sometimes that’s needed, but also, it can remove something that someone can actually do. Supporting someone to do something, means being alongside someone as they do it, which can make it feel much more manageable. Empowering someone is about believing in them, and sharing that belief with them. Enabling someone is about handing someone the tools to do something, rather than using the tools for them.

~Know your limits- You can’t save someone. We can only ever save ourselves and with the best will in the world, no matter how much you try, no matter how much someone wants to be saved, no matter how much you give, the only person who can save someone is themself. Along with that, you can’t do everything, and nor should you try.

~Look after yourself– Knowing that someone you love needs help can be challenging and distressing and it’s easy to forget about yourself in that situation. It’s important to take time for you, get yourself help if you need it too, see a therapist or doctor if you want to, or need to. No one (sometimes apart from you) expects you to carry it all, or be superhuman, and it’s very ok to reach out for help for yourself.

All that said, something I have said to people, when they desperately want to help, and don’t know how, is to find out information about relevant services around, and put them all together, in an easy to use sheet of paper, and give it to someone. It means you’ve done the work and given the energy it takes for research, but are giving someone the tools to do it themselves. Having it written down also means that your loved one can come back to it again and again (and it might need to be again and again) before using it. You might want to consider providing numbers such as The Samaritans, or Silverline, as well as local counselling services, services specifically related to whatever is causing the problem (such as Cruse, for bereavement, or the Citizens Advice Bureau, for financial issues), mental health services in the area (some areas accept self referrals, which can work well), the GP surgery number, things like that.

And it’s also really important to remember, that if you feel someone you love is at high risk of suicide, or serious self harm, or someone else is at high risk of being harmed by your loved one, then you can always call 999.

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