The warning signs to tell if someone is struggling emotionally can vary from small changes in their behaviour, to quite obvious cries for help. Both signs need to be taken seriously, however it is often the smaller changes that can go unnoticed. When someone is struggling it can be difficult to know what to do, but the first step is being aware that they are not ok in the first place. What are the signs to look out for and what can we do if we notice them? We chat to Lysn psychologist Breanna Jayne Sada about the small changes in someone’s behaviour, and what we can do to help.
As humans we go through a myriad of emotions each and feeling unhappy is one of them. However as with all sad emotions, it should only be temporary or fleeting, not a constant state of mind. If you notice someone has become unusually unhappy or looking down all the time, this could be a warning sign that things might not be going so well for them. It is normal to have a ‘bad day’ but if you notice that this person is looking unhappy all the time, it might be worthwhile to reach out to them.
You can consider saying things like “I’ve noticed you’re not looking yourself lately, is there anything I can do to help”. This might prompt them to open up about how they’re feeling or voice what’s on their mind. If you are worried about knowing what to say and the right words to use, check out the website Conversations Matter. Also let them know that there are other avenues they can turn to if they don’t feel like talking to you or anyone else they know.
Many people who are struggling emotionally can lose interest in the things they normally enjoy. They can become withdrawn or start avoiding social outings, or even start missing their favourite sporting outing or social tradition. People who are suffering emotionally can find that they have lost pleasure in the things that they would normally enjoy. If you notice a loved one has seemingly lost their lust for the things that they normally love, reach out to them. Be mindful not to use blaming statements like “you used to love going to the soccer” as these statements can make someone feel at fault or guilty, future amplifying their feelings of isolation. Instead use encouraging words that might prompt them to open up. Things like “do you want to go to the soccer together next time or do something else instead?”
If you notice a family member or partner is struggling to sleep for a prolonged period of time, this could be a sign that they are not ok. Normally our sleeping patterns can be affected by what’s happening in our waking lives, and when people are having difficulty sleeping, chances are they have a lot on their minds. Whatever is on their minds is likely making them worry, which in turn is affecting their ability to fall asleep. Loss of sleep can have a compounding effect in someone’s life, because feeling fatigued all the time is a debilitating feeling and can lead to various forms of mental illness such as anxiety or depression.
Try to suggest ways that might help a person sleep, such as exercise, journaling, meditation or talking about the things that are keeping them awake at night. Outline to them the serious nature of lack of sleep and be sure to let them know that there are things they can do to help. If self-help doesn’t work, suggest seeking the help of a professional who can provide tactics for getting a better sleep and address the underlying issues that might be affecting it.
Just as too little sleep can be a warning sign, too much sleep is also something to take note of. If a friend or loved one seems to be in bed more than usual and is having trouble waking and missing work or social activities because they always seem tired this may be something you raise with them. Be mindful not to accuse them of being lazy, our mood and the biology behind our mood can make someone incredibly lethargic and tired, if suffering from a mental health issue sometimes getting out of bed feels almost impossible.
Abnormal changes in appetite, meaning an increase or decrease, along with weight loss or weight gain are also signs that someone may be struggling. It is normal for people’s weight to change in minor ways over long periods of time, however if you notice that someone has seemingly lost interest in eating or seems to be over eating, this could be related to how they are feeling emotionally. This is a difficult topic to broach and could result in someone feeling upset, guilty or ashamed, so it is better to approach it from a different angle. Talk to them about how they are feeling rather than placing an emphasis on any changes you might have noticed in their weight or appearance.
You can start by having an “R U OK?” conversation with the person you are concerned about. You might be stuck with how to start this but sometimes it’s just helpful to state what you’ve noticed. For example “you don’t seem yourself lately” or “I’ve noticed you haven’t been enjoying…. lately” and follow this up by asking are they okay or if they’d like to talk about how they’ve been feeling.
Then listen without judgement. No phones, no TV’s, no distractions. Don’t say “I know what you’re going through” or “at least…” or “look on the bright side”. These can make them feel dismissed, or appear to place insignificance on how they are feeling. You can say “you are not alone” “I am here for you” or “how can I help out?”. The next step is most important step, to encourage action. Besides offering to be there for emotional support, there are professional avenues available to those who need to speak to a professional.
You can start by visiting someone familiar like a GP or there are services like Beyond Blue and Lifeline that offer free over-the-phone counselling and can be integral in providing support to manage any emotion issues. Services like Lysn provide access to psychologists over the phone or video chat which can be accessed from the comfort of your own home for a fee. It is important to be aware of these types of services available to not only be able to point someone else in the right direction, but know the avenues to turn to if you yourself ever feel the need. It is always ok to seek out professional help when you’re not feeling okay, just like visiting a doctor if you’re sick.
Finally don’t forget to check in with that person and follow up. You can ask how they are going or see how it went with a professional. Whatever you do it will make them feel acknowledged, listened to and cared for.