The third lockdown in 12 months and the uncertainty and pressures that the coronavirus pandemic is bringing are having an impact on many people’s mental health.

You may be noticing differences in the mood or behaviour of someone that you live with and worried it could be a sign they’re struggling with their mental health.

Or friends or relatives who are normally chatty and sociable when you see them in person, are now not answering your texts or calls to check how they’re doing during these days of restricted social contact.

But if you’re worried about a friend or family member’s mental health at this difficult time, what can you do about it?

And how can you broach the subject of recommending they seek professional support?

Our member Deone Payne-James, a counsellor based in south east London, has shared these useful tips for anyone who’s anxious about a loved one’s mental health and doesn’t know what to do next.

What are the signs that someone is struggling with their mental health?

For some of us, lockdown means we’re spending more time with our household – whether that’s our immediate family or our housemates – than ever before.

And this means if we’re seeing them more, we may be more likely to spot if they’re struggling with their mental health.

The first step is to notice that they’re struggling.

Deone says to look out for changes in character, mood and behaviour. She adds: “These can be subtle or significant. It may be a prolonged low or manic mood, erratic or unusual behaviour or decisions that seem out of character for the person.”

She also recommends looking out for a lack of motivation or agency, which she describes as a sense of control or independence.

“This can be impacted with the ever changing restrictions and the inability to do the things we usual do. Life can start to feel small and limited and this can have an adverse impact on both mental health and wellbeing.” 

Watch out for people becoming withdrawn, she adds.

“People become physically, socially and/or psychologically removed, as they disengage with the world and people around them. This sign can be trickier to identify, as the current pandemic enforces a type of withdrawal from “normal” life and everyday interactions.” 

What can you do to help?

If you’ve realised someone might be struggling, Deone says the next step is to ask them how they’re doing.

She recommends: “To open up conversations about mental health, it can be helpful to speak from the “I” position, talking about how you’ve felt and sharing the impact on your mental health and wellbeing. This can encourage more honest and vulnerable conversation about mental health and wellbeing.”

She suggests keeping these lines of communication open.

Continue to ask them what support they need and listen to them so you can understand how they're feeling and how best to support them. But remember to stick to your own capabilities.

She also says it’s important to remember your own mental health when helping a friend or family member.

She adds: “To try to mitigate the impact of helping others, remember that you’re also experiencing the impact of the lockdown and Covid.

“Take time for self-care and seek support from your own network talking about what you’re finding challenging. 

 “Try to keep boundaries that enable you to take some space and time for yourself and recognise that we all have limitations – consider when it might be time to seek outside support.” 


How to encourage someone to speak to a professional about their mental health

If their mental health is impacting on their everyday life, their normal coping strategies don’t seem to be helping, or their symptoms are worsening, you may want to encourage them to seek professional support.

Encouraging them to make an appointment with their GP or helping them to find a BACP-registered therapist would be the next important step.

It might feel a difficult conversation to have with someone, but Deone has some tips on how to raise the need to see a professional with someone.

She says: “Honesty and vulnerability are often the best approach – ensure they know you’re coming from a supportive and caring position.”

She adds: “Be honest about your concerns and what you’ve noticed about their mental health, and ask them how they’re feeling is one of the ways to approach this.

“It might also be helpful to offer some ideas about what professional support is available or offering to help them explore this.”

Find a counsellor or psychotherapist who can help you or a loved one using our Therapist Directory.