If someone you know seems to be going through a tough time and struggling with their mental health, it’s only natural that you want to help, but many of us don’t know where to start. How do you know for sure that there is a problem? And what’s the best way to approach it once you are convinced there is? Even if you’re wondering about your own mental health, it’s not always easy to recognise that there’s a problem and how to go about tackling it.
For expert advice on these questions we spoke to Craig Martin, global director of the mental health and suicide prevention program at the Movember Foundation.
How can you tell if someone is struggling with their mental health?
Some common signs include a general sense that they are not their normal selves. Some specific changes to look for include feelings of sadness and hopelessness, increased stress, and a diminished interest in the things and activities they normally enjoy, like hobbies, exercise or outings. They could be sleeping a lot or not very well, going through changes in appetite and weight, or displaying risk-taking behaviour such as increased drug or alcohol use.
Many symptoms can be explained by other things, so how do you recognise that they are actually being caused by poor mental health?
First, ask. People generally will tell you when things are not going well. They may have dropped weight due to exercise but they also may have lost their appetite as a symptom of depression. Generally, there will be a number of the above signs that tell you someone is struggling. We always encourage people to get in the habit of having a meaningful conversations with their friends, family members or colleagues.
How do you raise mental health issues if you see them in others?
Ask the question. You might need to ask the person how they are in a different way to solicit a meaningful response such as, “I have noticed that you haven’t been yourself lately, is everything OK?” From this point listen, follow your gut, but ask some more probing questions – don’t try to problem-solve or come up with solutions. Then encourage action: applaud the person for having the courage to speak up and ask them what they can do to take care of themselves – by eating and sleeping well, being active and getting exercise, and speaking to an expert if they may be depressed, anxious or struggling.
Finally, check in. Follow up a week or so later and see how they are going and if things have improved. You don’t need to be an expert to spark a potentially life-changing conversation.
For more tips on how to have a meaningful conversation, the Movember website has a section called I Want To Ask.
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What are good steps to take if you are having problems with your mental health?
Firstly, speak up. Take the step and tell the people around you. Speaking up is the first step towards taking action to be more mentally healthy and strong. This may mean speaking to a healthcare professional, if you are concerned that you may be anxious or depressed.
Next prioritise your mental health and wellbeing just like you do your physical health and fitness. Eat well, sleep eight hours a night, limit or cut out alcohol or drugs, achieve a good work-life balance and spend time doing the things that make you feel good. This includes prioritising your social connections. Schedule a regular time to catch up with a mate. We know that strong social connections are linked to improved mental health including reduced risk of anxiety and depression.
Craig Martin was speaking ahead of the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride, an annual event that raises money for the Movember Foundation – this year’s takes place on Sunday 30th September in more than 40 cities across the UK. To date, the event has raised over £10m for men’s health. To find out more or donate visit gentlemansride.com
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Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.