There can be many challenges when helping someone with a mental health condition but the main thing is to remember that you do not need to know all of the answers.  Just being there could be enough.

Supporting someone in the Armed Forces community can be even harder at times.  This could be due to many reasons - for example, service people might see asking for help as a sign of weakness.  This means greater patience may be required - there can be a lot of pride within the Armed Forces community and it’s important to not take this personally.

Ways to support;

  • Ask the person how they feel you could support them – it’s important to give autonomy to the person you are helping. Telling then what to do could come across quite intimidating.
  • Have a list of options at hand but don’t force them upon the person in difficulty. This could be speaking to their GP, offering helplines or looking at self-help (either online or from books).  This will vary from person to person depending on where they are at
  • Try not to offer platitudes such as ‘cheer up’ or ‘pull yourself together’ as this will potentially make the other person feel guilty for feeling unwell and put added pressure on them to feel well which in turn may have the opposite effect
  • Let the person know that you are there for them and give them space if you feel that is what they need. Just by knowing they have someone can be a real comfort blanket
  • Little check in’s by text can be helpful as the person who is struggling can reply if and when they feel up to it. This again is a little reminder that you are there for them if they decide they want to reach out and that they’re not alone
  • Try not to turn everything into a positive - Sometimes focussing on the positives can make a person feel guilty for feeling so bad when they have things (e.g. house, family etc). It can lead people to think that their problems are not worthwhile and we don’t want that as it may make the person feel even worse. What could they do instead?
  • Be patient - If you are supporting someone with mental health difficulties it can be hard to understand why the person you are supporting can’t just to get over it. In these situations it’s really important to be patient and allow them to process things at their pace
  • Learn their triggers - If your family member is experiencing mental health difficulties it could be an idea to familiar yourself with their triggers so that you both can be more prepared. For example fireworks could trigger a service person
  • Plan ahead with them - With this in mind it could be useful to plan ahead and try and factor in any triggers. An example could be allowing the person struggling with PTSD to be aware of where the exits are
  • Become aware of any changes how they are acting, a change in mood could indicate that they are struggling. Changes in sleep can also be a really good sign that things are not quite right and that support may be required (you may need professional support in such instances)
  • If your family member is transitioning from the Armed Forces Community it is important to allow them space to adjust to the new environment. It could be the first time that they have had responsibilities such as paying rent or bills and this needs care and support.  This may be supporting them to make phone calls or set up direct debits

On the whole there is no magic thing to say or do and simply being there and having a presence in their life can be enough.  Try not to take the way they’re treating you as personal if they are not themselves – it simply may be the only way they can be at the moment.


Additionally when trying to help someone with a mental health condition there may be some blocks to healthy communication;

  1. Just not communicating
  2. Worrying things will get worse if you delve deeper
  3. Expecting the other person to be a mind-reader
  4. Trying to be right
  5. Getting defensive and not really listening
  6. Shutting down and refusing to talk

This can make helping someone more difficult. The main thing to know is that you can’t make someone access help. What we suggest is changing a couple of ways that you interact with that person to help.

‘Asking not Telling’

What telling does;

  • Makes people think we’re overbearing or controlling
  • Ignores what people usually want – someone to just listen to them
  • Make people want to reduce communication and add distance
  • Uses your own perception rather than understanding the other person

So in order to increase communication it’s much better to Ask rather than Tell. By Asking it can open dialogue, creates joining and reinforces the relationship between you.

‘Use I statements’

Statements such as “You are upsetting me” or “You need to get help” can make people feel defensive as if you are blaming them.

Try instead to talk about situations from your own perspective – “I feel upset when you say things like that” or “I am struggling to offer you help alone, what do you think about trying to get some professional help as well?”