With more people losing jobs and borders remaining closed, Covid-19 can take a toll on one’s mental health. Moreover, there are less social activities to partake in during this time so some people may be socially isolated to the detriment of their mental health. 

Whilst Covid-19 has an impact on one’s mental health, mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety are not as visible as Covid-19 symptoms. Nonetheless one’s mental health should not be overlooked. If you suspect a friend to be mentally ill, don’t hesitate to reach out virtually or one-on-one.

Here are some tips to help you support your friends in need.

Listen Without Judgment 

If you notice your friend struggling, use phrases such as “I’m here to listen if you’d like to tell me more about that”, “I’m here if you want to talk about how you feel” or “Even if I don’t understand, I will listen”. Recognise your friend’s struggle and invite him/her to keep talking. Listen to understand, not comment. According to Samaritans of Singapore, it is important to remain non-judgmental and patient while showing genuine concern.

If your friend is feeling down, having someone close to talk to them really helps. Give them space to express themselves, cry if need be, and ultimately talk things through. It’s important for one to have a sounding board, as it helps to ensure one doesn’t bottle up his or her own emotions. Letting out one’s thoughts, no matter how negative it is, allows one to feel like he or she is less alone. It further exemplifies how there’s always someone out there willing to listen. Be that “someone” for someone else.

While it is often difficult to fully understand another person’s plight, listen with an open mind. Even being present and offering a listening ear can go a long way to make your friend feel better as emotional support is key. After listening, don’t forget to commend your friend’s courage for opening up to you in a vulnerable way. 

Don’t Trivialise 

On the opposite end, do not trivialise your friend’s problem or make judgments. For instance saying “You should not worry about it. You are not the only person facing a problem like this” may make your friend feel belittled and even more anxious about his/her problems. Each person is entitled to his/her emotions, and would not like to feel that his/her emotions aren’t valid.

While phrases such as “calm down” or “cheer up” may have the intention of making your friend feel better, it can inadvertently make your friend feel bad for not being able to calm down or cheer up instantly. Instead, use phrases such as “This must be so tough for you…” Understand and respect that for people with depression or anxiety, it takes time for them to calm down or cheer up. While it’s important for one to not wallow, remember that the intention is to make one feel comfortable with the mental health issue one’s facing. So, give your friend the space to rebalance and express his/her emotions. 

Don’t Rush Into Giving Advice

There are no fixed questions or responses when someone shares their mental health concerns with you. Above all, your attitude and approach would be key to consoling the person. Focus on first communicating your care and your willingness to be there for your friend, instead of rushing to provide advice without completely understanding how your friend feels. 

Before providing advice, validate the person’s feelings, no matter how elevated or exaggerated they seem. The key is to show empathy and see things from his or her perspective. When a person feels vulnerable or alienated, the last thing a person would want is someone who would taunt or challenge his/her thoughts.  

While listening, be sensitive but take the chance to ask direct questions in a way that allows the person to be honest with you about how they are feeling and thinking. For instance, here is a suggestion from the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) on how you can approach a sensitive and difficult subject: “I notice you have been having a really hard time lately. Sometimes when people are going through a tough time, they may think of suicide. Have you been thinking this way?” 

Advice can initially feel unwanted, but can eventually be helpful. Contextualise advice as companionship and encouragement, like reminding a friend to not set unrealistic goals and to take it step by step. You can also support your friend by suggesting he/she meets you outdoors for some fresh air or eat a wholesome meal with you. Your friend may also feel better through knowing examples of people who are coping with depression, as it can help normalise the way he/she feels. 

Recommend Further Support

Being a listening ear is a good starting point. Be a calming influence that can alleviate someone’s anxiety. When your friend feels more calm and open, helping your friend make an appointment with a professional could be a good way for him/her to address what is causing the distress in the long-term. Even after referring a friend, you can continue to encourage and reassure him/her throughout the diagnosis and treatment. 

Sometimes, it is even better for someone to start treatment early especially if someone does not know how to cope with their mental health concerns. If your friend opens up that he or she would like to seek professional support, affirm his/her choice and commend his/her proactivity. You can even offer to accompany your friend to the appointment.

Talking to a friend about mental health may be daunting and uncomfortable, but it is an important first step in order to help your friend feel less alone, seek help and normalise the conversation. When left unspoken, a person who needs help may end up putting one’s life at risk. During this Covid-19 period, let’s provide each other with hope and support one another through this challenging time.