These Are The Practical Steps You Can Take To Support Somebody With Their Mental Health

When we speak about mental illness and people struggling with their mental health, a common phrase is, “just reach out!”

However, it’s not always or ever that simple. For example, I know for myself that I don’t realise I’m in a bad mental health space until it’s too late and then I am too scared, too exhausted, too despondent to reach out.

Even if I did ‘reach out’ during those moments, I wouldn’t know what to say. I have OCD and when I am in a flare, it’s hard to explain just how complex my thoughts are and how difficult it would be to have a friend help me through a spiral.

This led me to wondering exactly what could be done for me and people like me in times of deep difficulties with our mental health. If it isn’t possible to reach out, how can our loved ones reach in and what are the practical steps that can be taken to support us?

HuffPost UK spoke with Dr Sophie Mort, a Mental Health Expert at Headspace and a Clinical Psychologist to learn more about how we can practically help one another through mental illness.

How to help somebody through mental illness

Dr Mort said that to start with, remind your loved one that they matter to you. She said: “Despite all the work that has been done, mental health challenges still come with a lot of shame and stigma attached.

“Remind your loved one that they are still the same person they always were, they’re just having a difficult time. Ensure they know they are wanted; invite them out with you and to get involved in activities you know they enjoy.”

However, Dr Mort noted: “It’s also important that they know it’s ok for them to say no, without repercussions.”

As for practical support during these moments, Dr Mort said the everyday support is crucial. She said: “When people are low, overwhelmed or struggling, completing simple day-to-day tasks can be difficult. Find out what’s too much of a burden right now and offer to take it on, but don’t take on too much.

“You want to be present and helpful whilst at the same time empowering and supportive. Being flexible in your approach and offering to collaborate in a task can be more useful than taking over. Be led by your friend/loved one.”

The best way to approach supporting a loved one with mental illness 

Dr Mort said: “It can be difficult to know how to support your loved one but a good place to start is by educating yourself. For example, if they’ve received a recent diagnosis, learn as much as you can about it, what it means and what it might feel like for the person you care about.

“Research the recommended course of action and any resources out there and pass them on to other friends or relatives who are also involved.”

Dr Mort also highlighted that it’s important to ask the loved one how they wish to be supported and what they do to self-soothe when they’re overwhelmed.

From there, Dr Mort recommends agreeing which bits you can do to help, which ones others can take on and how your loved one will let you know

Dr Mort added: “Simply being present and open to discussions, in a way that the person is comfortable with, is also incredibly helpful.

“They may not want to talk the first time, but this doesn’t mean they never will, so keep the door open and check in when you can.”

How to talk to somebody about their mental illness 

Dr Mort said: “Emotional and mental distress can sometimes lead to individuals feeling isolated and that it’s not OK to talk about what is happening with them.

“Let your friend or relative know they can talk to you, about anything at all. Ask questions such as ‘How are you feeling?’, ‘How is your anxiety?’, ‘Do you know what makes it easier or harder for you?’ and then be led by the other person and their responses.”

Dr Mort also recommends using statements like: “I am here for you”, “I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel but I really care and want to help”.

The expert also adds that phrases like “snap out of it”, “don’t cry”, “it’s no big deal” or “you don’t look anxious/depressed etc” aren’t helpful, even with the best intentions behind them, and can leave the person feeling undermined.

What to do if you don’t know what to say to somebody who is struggling with their mental health

Dr Mort said: “If you have no idea what to say, remember soothing touches such as hand-holding or a hug releases feel-good hormones that decrease the stress response.

“So don’t feel the need to say anything, just be there, offer to sit in silence and hold your loved one. Crying also releases stress hormones, so if their tears flow, let them.”

What to do if you’re worried about a loved one’s mental health

Dr Mort said: “If you are worried about your friend or relative keeping themselves safe, the faster you respond the better. Speak to the person first and ask what you can do.

“If you don’t feel able to address your concerns directly, say you noticed they seem more distressed or low than usual and ask if they would like to speak to someone.”

She also advised that you should have a list of local 24-hour helplines to hand and either call them yourself or support your loved one to do so. Identify safe environments: if you are in the UK, A&E is open 24/7 and they have people available at all times to manage a mental health crisis.

Dr Mort added: “Look after yourself too, as the more resilient you are feeling, the more help you’ll be able to offer.

“In the same way that collaborating to complete a task can be helpful, working together to research what support options are best is also a good idea.”

Finally, Dr Mort said: “Supporting someone who is struggling is usually a marathon, not a sprint. Be led by the person and don’t forget that you deserve to be supported too, so seek out whatever you need.”

Help and support:

  • Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.

  • Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).

  • CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) offer a helpline open 5pm-midnight, 365 days a year, on 0800 58 58 58, and a webchat service.

  • The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email

  • Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0808 801 0525 (Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on