Supporting loved ones with mental health challenges

Supporting loved ones with mental health challenges

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and the aim of this period is to help tackle any stigma around mental health and to help people prioritise and understand their own mental health as well as others. This year in particular, the week is focusing on one of the most common mental health problems, anxiety. In the UK data shows that roughly 6 in 100 people will be diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder, showing just how common it is. In this blog we will not only focus on anxiety, but also on the challenges different mental health disorders can have on people, how family and friends can help those who are impacted and also resources for further support. 

What is mental health?

Mental health is a state of mental well-being and is far more complex than just the absence of a mental disorder, as it is different for everyone in the world. Having good mental health allows us to build relationships with the people around us, cope with the stresses of everyday life and to make decisions that positively benefit us and the world we live in. 

What can cause mental health problems?

Someone looking sad

There are a number of factors that can lead to mental health illnesses and for many it will be caused by a combination of different factors as shown below.

1. Biological factors

Biological factors can consist of anything physical that can cause an adverse effect on someone's mental health. This includes prenatal damage, infections, brain defects or injuries, substance abuse or exposure to toxins.

2. Life experiences

There are a number of life experiences that can lead to certain mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. For example, traumatic events like an accident, abuse, witnessing someone get hurt or living in an unsafe environment can all affect how you feel. How you’re affected by the trauma you have gone through is not related to how strong you are, it can depend on whether you have experienced other traumatic events, other stresses that you are currently facing and how much support you have had afterwards.

3. Family history

Research shows that mental illnesses can run in families, suggesting that people who have a family member with a mental illness may be somewhat more likely to also have one such as bipolar disorder. Although the development of some mental health problems can be influenced by our genes, there is no evidence that has found a specific gene that has 100% caused that particular mental health problem. 

Common mental health symptoms and signs

Mental health symptoms

Mental illness refers to a wide range of different mental health conditions, these illnesses can affect your thinking, behaviour and your mood. Many people will encounter mental health problems from time to time, but it becomes an issue when the ongoing signs and symptoms affect your ability to function and they cause you to frequently stress. 

Signs and symptoms of mental illnesses will vary depending on the disorder itself, the circumstances that person is in as well as other factors in their life. Examples of some common signs and symptoms of mental health problems can include:

    • Reduced ability to concentrate
    • With-drawl from friends and family
    • Feeling down or sad
    • Inability to cope with stress or daily problems
    • Extreme mood changes from high to lows
    • Low energy levels, tiredness and struggling to sleep
    • Excessive worrying or fear

Some symptoms of mental health will appear as physical problems as well such as headaches, tummy-aches and other unexplained aches and pains. 

Common mental health challenges people will face

Looking sad

When people are suffering from a mental health illness, there are a number of different challenges that go alongside the problem that they are facing and here are just a few.

Struggling to cope with everyday tasks

If you are struggling with a mental health condition, it can take a toll on our everyday lives. It can make it harder for us to do everyday tasks such as keeping ourselves physically healthy or keeping on top of our work.  A common sign of a mental health condition is a lack of concentration, if we cannot concentrate efficiently, we may fall behind at work which can cause further stress. 


 Dates dedicated to mental health awareness always aim to help reduce the amount of stigma people have towards mental illnesses. Stigma and discrimination can make someone's mental health worse and it can also delay them from getting the help that they really need. There are a number of reasons mental health illnesses are discriminated against, one being stereotypes. When some people think of mental issues, they often think of that person as being unstable and potentially dangerous; when in fact the person suffering is more of a harm to themselves than anyone else. Something society can do to help people with mental health illnesses is to help stop the stigma. They can do this by openly talking about mental health conditions and educating people about them can make a world of difference so people don’t feel isolated and alone. 

Social interaction

Poor mental health can often lead to problems such as social isolation - people may feel like they cannot openly discuss their condition as they feel people won’t understand what they are going through. Alternatively many push people away as they feel like they don’t want to burden the close people around them. Whilst people might feel like it is easier to keep people at an arm's length when they are suffering, evidence shows that having people around you that want to help can play a key role in recovery. 

How to support a loved one

Talking with a friend

The importance of communication and active listening 

Communication and active listening involves a lot more than just talking to someone, it involves listening to the person and letting them feel like they are understood. Communicating successfully with someone fosters trust, helps boost their emotional and social-wellbeing and will hopefully give them more confidence to open up to you when they need you. So how do you communicate with someone successfully?

1. Pay attention to what they are saying

You will need to listen tentatively to how they are feeling and what seems to have caused them to feel this way. It may be hard for you to change their circumstance, but giving your full attention to them can help them to feel better and you can suggest they talk to a professional if you feel like you cannot help them

2. Put yourself out there

When someone opens up to you about their mental health issues, they are creating a relationship of confidence with you. Give them your time and let them know you are there for them when they need you. 

3. Ask about their needs

The most important thing is to ask them how you can help in this situation or what would be useful to them. Everyone’s definition of support is completely different and what you or someone else might need when they are struggling, might not be the same as what this person needs during this time.

4. Don't compare other peoples experiences

Whilst it is normal to make them feel like they are not alone and that other people have also gone through similar times, it can also have a negative effect as it could make them feel like you are belittling how they are feeling.

5. Stay calm

Although it may be distressing to hear that someone you care about is having a hard time, try to stay calm. Acting calm will hopefully help your friend or family member feel calmer too and will show them that they can come to you when they need you. 


You might also want to read:

Tips for creating a safe and supportive environment

Hugging a friend

It can be very upsetting and difficult when you see a family or a loved one struggle with their mental health, however you don’t need to be a mental health expert to help them. There are plenty of ways you can offer practical support:

    • provide emotional support
    • help them to manage day-to-day tasks
    • support them in challenging times
    • advocate for them (see our pages about advocacy)
    • encourage and support them to seek help
    • make phone calls for them
    • encourage them to feel confident in making decisions
    • be there for them during treatment.

The challenges of supporting someone with a mental health issue

When you are supporting someone with their mental health, it can also become a stressful time for you. When you look after your own mental wellbeing, it will mean you have the energy to help the people that are relying on you. To help put this into practice you will need to:

    1. Set boundaries. If you become overwhelmed with the role you have taken on, you won’t be any help to your loved ones. Here are some of our top tips to help you reduce stress during these times. 
    2. Sharing responsibilities. It’s often easier to help someone else when you have someone who is also helping as you’ll know you’re not doing it alone.
    3. Talk to someone. If you yourself are feeling overwhelmed, it is important to talk to someone how you are feeling. Make sure you talk about your own feelings and not the person you are trying to help in the first place.  

Resources for further support

Mental health

For some people, the love and support they get from you isn’t quite enough and they will need professional help. Here is how you can get support within the UK.

Talk to your GP

To get help for yourself or for the person you are helping, you will need to talk to a GP to use the mental health services available. Your GP will be able to talk to you about your health and will introduce the right course of action and refer you to the right services you need. 

Talk to a specialist

When you get in touch with your GP about your mental health, you will have an appointment where they will listen, give their advice and introduce you to the different services they have available. These services will either come from your GP surgery, a local health centre, a specialist mental health clinic or a hospital. 

There are also organizations and services that can help you during this time which can be found here.

Mental health can seem like a very overwhelming subject for those who are struggling with their own mental health and for those who are trying to help that person. Mental Health Awareness Week and other dedicated days hope to encourage more people to open up about their health and get the help they need from either people around them or professionals. Remember, if you are struggling with your mental health and you feel isolated and alone please contact your GP or call one of the organisations listed above to help get the correct mental health support for you.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.