1. Ask how they are feeling
Often when people are experiencing difficulty, others know about it, but say nothing. This simple question communicates care.
2. Listen to what they say
Put your phone away and put your focus completely upon the other person. Let them tell you how it is and use non-verbal cues to show you are fully present. Don’t start talking about yourself, but try to reflect back what they are saying in different words to let them know you are tuned in.
Listening is an act of love because it focuses on the other. James commands us to be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). When interacting with those struggling with mental health, listening can be a first step in moving forward.
3. Be a safe person for them
It’s okay to say, “Tell me more,” but don’t push them to share more than they want. Let them go at their own pace. It takes courage and trust for them to open up. Such trust is earned through gentleness and kindness.
4. Check that they are safe
You do no harm by asking, “Are you thinking about taking your life?” Asking this question shows you care and will decrease their risk.
5. Seek professional help if needed
Ask them if they have seen their GP. If they haven’t, encourage them to do this and offer to help them. If you feel out of your depth, ask for help.
6. Ask if you can read God’s word and pray
They need hope. They need to be reminded that they have a God who is sovereign, all loving, all caring, all seeing and knowing and that He can hear their silent groans in that tunnel and is with them. Ask them if you can read a couple of verses from the bible with them – share something that has recently encouraged you as a start, or a few verses from Psalms, and then ask if you can pray. Focus on who God is and how much he loves them and what he has graciously done for them. They need God’s word of comfort and consolation.
7. Encourage wise behaviour
Good habits of exercise, diet and sleep promote wellbeing. Another good habit is thankfulness. Give them a nice blank book and suggest they think of three things every day they are thankful to God for and to write them down. They might find this hard to do, but over time, this will help them begin to notice the positives in their life. Encourage them to connect with others – at church or in their local community – and to do things they enjoy.
8. Follow them up
Offer to meet up for a coffee or for a walk in a park to find out how they are getting along. It’s easy for them to think that no one could be bothered to spend time with them.
9. Put appropriate boundaries in place
Personal boundaries help define our identity. When we have a clear sense of our values, beliefs, abilities, needs, feelings, etc, we know who we are and are able to make choices that are helpful for us and for others.
Good boundaries enable us to love others better because rather than operating from our insecurities (such as a “need to be needed”) and blind spots we can consider what is truly in the best interests of the other. They are good for us; good for them.
Love is not the same as being nice. Love acts in the best interests of the other – will say ‘no’ when necessary.
Appropriate boundaries will involve thinking carefully about how often we respond to texts or meet up, or the type and amount of practical assistance we provide. It is not loving to enable selfish, irresponsible or overly dependent behaviour.
These are matters that require wisdom, which is worth praying for (James 1:5)!
10. Take care of yourself
Caring for another carries a physical and emotional cost. You care for your own wellbeing not to be selfish, but to enable you to continue to love others.