The importance of talking about mental health can’t be repeated enough. The more we talk, the more accepted it will be, and the more likely people are to speak up when they are struggling.
But, let’s say you get that and start a conversation with someone. Let’s say it’s a friend who just hasn’t been herself. And let’s say you approach her and warmly say, “How are you doing? I’ve noticed you’ve seemed down lately.” And let’s say she says, “I’m fine”.
You’re left wondering, “But, why aren’t we talking? I think something’s wrong and here I am willing to help you. I know you’re not fine, so what’s the problem?”
In fact, people dealing with mental health concerns refusing help is not uncommon at all. For any number of reasons – including fear, discomfort, denial, or not realizing how their concerns are affecting them – people may just not want to go there. It may have nothing to do with the helpers and just be a sign of where they are at in the moment.
So, what can we do as helpers if someone doesn’t take the help we are willing to offer? Here are 4 tips:
Accept that it’s a process
Just because your friend doesn’t want to talk now doesn’t mean that she never will. She may need time to process your questions and think about what she wants to do with them. Don’t push or be confrontational – be compassionate and willing to be there if and when she does want to talk.
Try sharing with your friend what you have noticed, like, “You haven’t been interested in hanging out lately” or “You’ve been calling in sick to work a lot the past month”. It may be easier for her to talk about behaviours or changes like this at first which may help her open up about her feelings and other challenges down the road.
Ask if there is anything you can do to help
Your friend may not want to talk about what she’s experiencing, but she may be open to saying something you can do to help in some way. Maybe she’d like to meet up for a walk or maybe you could help by running an errand for her that’s causing her stress. Whatever you can do will show that you care and are willing to stick by her.
Check back in
Your friend refusing or not being ready to accept help doesn’t mean that all bets are off. Take some time and then revisit the conversation if you continue to be concerned. By discussing what you are observing, you’ve sent the message that you are willing to talk. The hope is that she will talk about what’s happening at some point, but if she doesn’t, don’t feel like you failed. You can open the door, but you can’t force her to walk through it.
To learn more about how to support people, consider taking a Mental Health First Aid course. Click here for more details.