There isn’t much the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t impacted – it’s affected how we interact with each other, where and how we work, how we celebrate life events, and most importantly, how we feel. Regardless of how you have been impacted by COVID-19, feeling supported and being able to offer support to loved ones has become extremely important. The future is unpredictable and as a society we may be feeling the mental health effects of the pandemic long after it is over, so it’s crucial that we offer support to one another now.
Everyone responds to stress and change differently. You may feel angry, while your best friend feels sad. Someone else may feel nervous, scared or unmotivated. It’s important to recognize changes in those close to you early on, so you can be there for them and offer help as appropriate. It’s also important to remember that there is no single way to offer help, because everyone is unique and has their own story.
Here are some do’s and don’ts from the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) curriculum to help you have a supportive conversation with a friend or loved one:
- Don’t force someone to talk. There’s not going to be a one-size-fits-all solution, and you may have to have more than one conversation. That’s OK! Let the other person go at their own pace.
- Acknowledge changes cause by the pandemic. This seems intuitive, but acknowledging that this event is having wide-reaching effects is the first step to accepting that things have changed. It can be hard to accept that the “normal” we once knew is still on hold and adjusting may be difficult for some. It’s also typical to feel anxious, stressed or angry. Try talking about these emotions and letting the other person vent if they need to.
- Listen and communicate without judgement. When someone opens up to you about how the pandemic has impacted them, remain calm and patient. How they react to change is personal, and it’s important that you genuinely listen.
- Don’t interrupt. Ask questions and pay attention to their tone when they speak – a little empathy can go a long way.
- Discuss coping strategies. Ask the person how they would like to be helped. Self-care is always a great place to start, so ask if they have an activity or hobby they like to do. It can also be helpful to encourage them to take a break to relax, avoid technology, and discourage unhealthy coping mechanisms like substance use.
- Accept their experience. Reactions to stress are as unique as the people who experience them.
- Share resources. You may not be able to personally offer someone the help they need, and that’s OK. Keep a list of local and national mental health resources handy so you can share that information when appropriate.
- Encourage professional help. If you notice someone you know is having a harder time coping, encourage help from a mental health professional. Many providers are offering telehealth services to make access to care easier while complying with physical distancing guidelines, and local resources like community centers may be offering mental health programs, classes and support groups to help.