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How to look out for the mental health of your loved ones

With lockdowns and ongoing uncertainty amid the COVID outbreak, it's vital that we look after our mental health and check in with our loved ones.

How to look out for the mental health of your loved ones

When it comes to looking out for our friends and family members, how can we support them if they are finding it hard to cope?

I AM HOPE ambassador Tai Tupou offers his advice.

What signs should people look out for in their friends/family members that might signal they are struggling with their mental health?

The signs of mental health issues present in different ways for different people. So even though we are always told to look for the signs, the hard truth is that there may not be specific signs to look out for. 

Instead, we need to consider our friend/loved ones’ usual behaviour and notice if they are acting out of the ordinary. If an outgoing person starts to withdraw from social activities, this may be something to take notice of. Or, if someone who is typically quite active and healthy starts to neglect their self-care and stop looking after themselves, it could be a sign they are struggling. Often people will also increase their standard intake of alcohol so it’s also important to take note if this is out of character.  

The bottom line is to take notice of your loved ones who aren’t quite acting like themselves and seem to be stepping away from their usual behaviours and activities. 

Tai Tupou. Image: Samuel Lynch

Once we’ve identified these signs, what advice do you have for how we should approach them about it?

We want to create an environment where our loved ones feel safe and comfortable enough to let us in on their mental health issues. The key to encouraging vulnerability is often to share your own experiences and stories, to help them realise they are not alone in their struggle or the way they are feeling. By putting your own vulnerabilities on the table it will often lead people to do the same. 

We also want to validate people’s thoughts and feelings. Often when someone comes to us with a problem, we instinctively try to fix it, or worse, minimise their thoughts and feelings. Everyone is entitled to feel how they feel, so instead try listening without judgement, validate their thoughts and normalise their feelings.

Try to strike a balance between being supportive and not being overbearing – this may push them away rather than encouraging them to open up.  Stay in contact with them – text is often a non-invasive way to do this – so they know you are there for them when they are ready to turn to you. 

What are some other ways in which we can show support for someone who admits they’re struggling with their mental health?

Ultimately, our role is to create a pathway for people to the help and support they need to better their mental health.  One of the best things we can do is to gather as many supportive options as possible for people, and ensure it is available for them once they are ready. 

Take advantage of local mental health services and share these as a helpful, important, and neutral resource. For example, those struggling can text or call 1737 for a 24-hour hotline or reach out to Gumboot Friday to gain access to a free counsellor for people under 25. 

Remember it’s not about having all the answers for them – it’s about supporting them with love while they are on their journey to a healthier headspace. 

Functional training is designed to give your exercise more "purpose" than traditional gym workouts. ISTOCK

Looking out for others can take a toll on our own mental health too – what are some self-care strategies for people who are taking care of loved ones experiencing a mental health issue?

Maintain an active and healthy lifestyle. Personally, I find hitting up the gym several times a week an important act of self-care, and one that is less for the body than it is for the mind. It helps me gain clarity which stays with me throughout the day, and ultimately makes me feel better from the inside out. We recently partnered with Snap Fitness to launch their Move Your Mood For Good campaign in line with Mental Health Month, to encourage others to start moving their bodies in the name of mental health. 

Do something for you that makes you feel good about yourself and confident. This may be having a spa treatment, swimming in the ocean, reading a good book or cooking an amazing meal in the kitchen. For me personally, getting a weekly haircut keeps me feeling my best on the inside and the outside – it’s a small thing but I look forward to that feeling every week! 

Spread positivity and lift up the people around you. While we may be talking about self-care, the truth is that spreading genuine positivity and love will ultimately help you feel these things too. This may be helping those less fortunate or even the loved ones in your own circle, with acts as simple as telling them you’re proud of them and telling them what you love about them. We should normalise lifting people around us and make this a regular act of self-care. 

About Move Your Mood For Good

I AM HOPE and Snap Fitness NZ have partnered to launch Move Your Mood for Good, an initiative to raise awareness and funds for mental health this October. During Mental Health Month, New Zealanders are encouraged to set a goal to move their mood for good and embrace the way positive lifestyle habits, like getting your body moving, greatly improve your overall mental and physical wellbeing. To get involved visit: https://snapnation.co.nz/mental-health-month/

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