Tuesday, 9th October, 2018

Getting help and support for mental health problems

When you’re caught in the grips of depression, anxiety or a related illness, it can often feel like there’s no escape.

What often makes this worse is the feeling that you cannot reach out to anyone. Either they don’t care, or they would judge you and not understand.

Although the stigma around mental health is being addressed by brilliant campaigns such as Time To Change and Heads Together, you may still not be comfortable with sharing your story.

We’re here to tell you that it’s OK.

It’s OK if your GP has directed you to take antidepressants, and it’s OK to open up about it.

By taking a few simple steps, you can create a support network that can help raise you from your low feelings and propel you into a brighter future. Getting better isn’t only about medicines - you need people, too.

A proper support network can help point you in the right direction in your quest towards a better tomorrow.

Depression is a lonely place

You might not want to tell anyone about your mental health problems or that you take antidepressants.

That’s fine.

However, by bottling up how you feel, you run the risk of developing unhealthy coping strategies that will only add to your problems in the long run. Instead of depending on the advice and emotional support of those around you, you may find yourself developing negative habits such as junk food, alcohol, and substance abuse.

Echo-NHS-depressed man

If your mental health troubles are not going away, it's important to ask for help. In fact, reaching out should be the first step you take after you recognise that you have a problem.

Telling those close to you about your condition may fill you with fear. That’s OK.

Instead of suffering in silence, turn this obstacle into an opportunity: by facing your fears, you are being strong. Therefore, remind yourself of the following mantra:

Opening up is not a weakness; it is a strength.

Depression and anxiety are serious conditions that require help. Thankfully, there are many different ways to seek it.

Help is always around the corner

In the UK 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem each year. In England, 1 in 6 report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety or depression) in a given week.

If you want to open up to someone about your condition but are not ready to talk to your nearest and dearest, joining a good mental health support group can be a real game changer. Meeting and talking openly with people who have similar problems really shows that you are not alone.

Don’t quite feel up to socialising? Again, not a problem.

Online support groups such as Elefriends provide a safe space for those who find it hard to be around people in public. Mental health charities like Mind, Rethink Mental Illness and the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM, especially there to help men) also offer in-depth support and information on coping with mental health. For more on the issue, the NHS’s page on support for depression and anxiety is also a great tool.

If you’d rather speak to someone in person, you can call Samaritans any time on 116 123.

Talk to your GP if you feel like the treatment you are receiving isn’t working or you need more help. They can advise a suitable course of action with regards to medication dosage or alternative treatments.

If you’re feeling so bad that you’re in danger of hurting yourself or someone else, don’t hesitate to call 999 or go to A&E.

Reaching out to a loved one

You feel ready to talk to someone close to you, but you feel nervous. What’s the best way to tell them you have a problem?

Don’t worry too much about how you tell somebody. There are many ways to open up, and finally conveying how you truly feel will come as a huge relief. If you are struggling to find the right words, here are some useful tips.

Once you reach out to those around you, you’ll feel a huge weight off your shoulders. Not only that, but you’ll have people to call on to help you fight the good fight. People you can trust, and people who care.

How to help support someone else on antidepressants

Perhaps someone has opened up to you about their own struggles with depression/anxiety and their medication.

Or maybe you suspect they might be showing warning signs of depression, including:

  • losing interest in things, such as work, hobbies and socialising
  • expressing a bleak or negative outlook on life
  • sleeping less or oversleeping
  • complaining about aches and pains frequently
  • adopting erratic eating habits
  • abusing drink or drugs

In any case, this scenario can often seem like a challenge to many - especially if it is someone you care about.

Once you have been made aware of your loved one’s condition, the first step is simple:

(1) Listen. By simply offering them an ear, a shoulder to cry on, or a platform to air their pain, you will be actively aiding the recovery process.

(2) Educate yourself. Appreciate and acknowledge what their illness is and how it works. This starts by recognising that:

  • Depression is a serious condition. Don’t underestimate your loved one’s illness. The symptoms are serious and can be all-encompassing: physically, mentally, emotionally and socially.
  • The symptoms of depression are not personal. Depression affects your emotional state and can also affect your judgment. If you feel like your loved one is lashing out, becoming emotionally distant or acting act of character, reassure yourself that it is the depression speaking and not the person. Try to not take their actions too personally as you support them.
  • You cannot fix someone’s depression. Recovery lies in the hands of the depressed person themselves, because an individual’s depression is very much a lived experience. This is why a proper support structure is so important.

(3) Be patient. Understand that the process isn’t going to be easy and be prepared to play the long game. This includes relieving any work/life pressure if possible but also just being there for them.

One thing to bear in mind though is that you should not under any circumstances give out medical advice that undermines the directions of this person’s GP.

Further advice

Dealing with mental health conditions can be tough, but try to remind yourself that your illness does not define you. The author Matt Haig nicely summarises depression, for example, in his bestselling 2015 memoir Reasons To Stay Alive:

“It may be a dark cloud passing across the sky, but - if that is the metaphor - you are the sky.”

By reaching out to those around you for support, you are actively trying to improve your situation. And for that, you should be proud.

For more on the issue, the mental health charity Mind is a great resource, as is the NHS’s page on support for depression and anxiety.


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Clinically reviewed by Alistair Murray MRPharmS: 11/3/18