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It isn't always obvious if a friend, colleague or family member needs help. The behavioural signs can be subtle and slow to manifest. Once you know that there is a problem, it can get extremely stressful for you as the observer to try and find some help. This page covers:
- What to do in a crisis;
- Your role in helping
- Recognising the signs of mental illness;
- How to get professional help for your colleague;
- Educating yourself on your colleagues illness;
- Looking after yourself.
If someone is in immediate danger, dial 111 and ask for ambulance assistance.
If the danger is critical but not life-threatening, you can:
- take them to the Accident and Emergency Department (A&E) at your nearest hospital;
- phone your nearest hospital;
- If it is a mental problem, call your district health board’s psychiatric emergency service or mental health crisis assessment team;
- remain with your colleague and help them to stay safe until support arrives.
Your role in helping
It can be quite daunting trying to help someone in trouble. You need to bear in mind some important limitations:
- you are a support person and not a doctor, counsellor or therapist.
- if you feel you are drowning yourself and have no idea what to do, contact our Bar Care Panel for help (while maintaining confidentiality for the person you are trying to help);
- you are there to listen and if asked give advice. No one expects you to solve the issues or problems, just to listen without judging;
- be honest with your colleague - tell them when you are out of your depth and help them to find the appropriate person to listen. Check the common problems list below or talk to our Bar Care Panel.
There are some practical things you can do:
- ask what you can do to help;
- be a sounding board - just listen;
- stay calm even when faced with expressions of emotion such as tears, frustration and anger. Allow the expression without interruption and tell them it is ok;
- never say "Toughen up", "It will pass", "Things could be worse" or "Cheer up" etc
- if you are asked and it is appropriate, be there for difficult conversations that your colleague may have to have with third parties;
- help them to clear their diary to allow for recuperation;
- encourage your colleague to seek professional help if necessary;
- offer help with driving them to and from appointments in the begining;
- be patient - it can take time for people to open up about a problem and it can take time to recover.
Recognising the signs - mental illness
Physical illnesses are often easier to detect the mental illnesses. However, sometimes physical illness can be the result of an underlying mental issue, and sometimes a mental issue can be related to a physical problem. No one expects you to be a doctor or counsellor and to diagnose what is wrong with a colleague. Your role is one of support and helping your colleague to find some professional help.
And, of course, you need to keep things in perspective. One off situations, even if they are unusual, may not indicate a bigger problem. There is also a possibility that they may be dealing with a short term crisis in their lives. But if you have noticed negative behavioural changes over a period of days or weeks, you may have to do have a discussion with that person.
It can be helpful if you can describe some of the signs you have noticed that suggest that your colleague needs help. The Ministry of Health mental health services suggests that you consider the following list. Your colleague may have a problem if they:
- Don't want to see their friends or no longer enjoy spending time with their friends and family;
- Stop doing things they used to love or don't seem to be enjoying themselves;
- Can't remember things, concentrate, or pay attention;
- Feel bad about themselves – guilty, worthless or ashamed;
- Have a big change in eating patterns or appetite;
- Have extreme mood swings;
- Feel hopeless or really sad, or cry a lot;
- Feel anxious, stressed, nervous or scared a lot and can't seem to relax;
- Are not happy unless they're using drugs or alcohol;
- Don't take care of their appearance or personal hygiene;
- Have physical signs of injury or that they are hurting themselves;
- Have panic attacks – rapid heartbeat, unable to breathe, feeling dizzy and extremely scared or anxious all at once.
How to get help
Remember: if you are worried about immediate safety, dial 111 and ask for an ambulance. The operator for the ambulance service will talk you through the situation give you advice on what to do.
Your colleague may already be seeing a GP. Ask about this, and if not, encourage him or her to talk to a doctor. If your colleague is reluctant to talk to a GP, there are a range of helplines and services which can be accessed depending on the nature of the problem. You may find that you will be asked to be present for the call or to drive your colleague to get help.
One of the first steps to take when helping someone else is to learn about the ways of ensuring well-being, as well as your colleague’s condition.
educating yourself about the problem faced by your colleague/friend is invaluable. It will help you to speak to them and to understand what they are telling you. You will gain a greater awareness of their needs as well as remove some of your fears or uncertainties.
If your colleague has a mental condition, the Mental Health Foundation is a great place to get more information. Start with the A to Z of mental health conditions.
The Foundation has a Resource & Information Service to help you find information on what mental illnesses and their symptoms are and how to help someone who is experiencing those symptoms. The service offers including live chat, email, phone assistance and more.
If your colleague has a physical condition, a good starting point to understanding it may be the Health Navigator New Zealand website. Also remember that good physical health helps promote good mental health – so it’s important that your colleague goes to their GP for a check up.
Finally, understanding yourself how we can stay well will enable you to promote this with your colleague. Check out our Staying Well pages.
Looking after yourself
It is very stressful being the support for someone else, no matter how much we want to be there for them. You have to put extra time into looking after yourself and staying healthy. Without breaking confidence with your colleague who has confided in you, you may need to talk to someone to work through how you feel about the situation. Our Bar Care Panel is available to you.
Take breaks from the situation when necessary and never forget to look after yourself physically as well as emotionally. Consult our Staying Well pages for information on your options.