Helping your loved one

Do you think your loved one might be struggling? Family members are often the first to notice early changes in mood, thinking and behaviour that indicate there might be a problem.

The diagram below – the Mental Health Continuum Model – illustrates the different mental health phases that an Ambulance Victoria employee may experience. This can help you understand the types of signs and symptoms to look out for.

  • Green indicates someone is in good mental health and coping well with work and life in general.
  • Yellow indicates someone may be experiencing mild stress. These symptoms are referred to as early warning signs. If the person can access support at this point, they can get back on track and into the “green zone” sooner than if they do nothing.
  • Orange indicates someone may be experiencing greater stress and have more persistent problems in daily functioning that can affect work and home life. Often more targeted support is required at this time.
  • Red indicates someone may be facing serious challenges and problems with their mental health. These symptoms require professional support and clinical interventions.

It’s normal for a person to move up and down the continuum (sometimes multiple times within a day!). If symptoms are in the orange or red zone, help seeking should occur. A starting point is your GP, Manager, or Ambulance Victoria’s support line (1800 MANERS) if you are not already linked to a mental health care provider.

Being aware of these signs and symptoms can help you determine when to have or start a conversation with your family member.

Mental Health Continuum

I’m concerned about a family member. How do I talk to them about it?

Starting a conversation with your loved one about their mental health isn’t easy. But it can make a big difference.

Here are some tips for how to approach the conversation:

It’s important that you feel ready and are in the right headspace.

Have a clear idea of what you want to say before you say it. Don’t be afraid to make some notes and practice different responses.

Be prepared for the conversation to not go as expected. Your loved one might not be ready to talk or expresses difficulties that are more serious than you anticipated. Both reactions are possible, and valid.

Finally, choose your moment. Timing is key, for you both.

Ask them how they are feeling. It might sound simple but approaching them, and being willing to have the discussion, shows you care.   

Use open-ended questions to encourage conversation. It can help to point out changes you’ve noticed.

  • “You’ve seemed a bit quiet lately. What’s on your mind?”
  • “I’ve noticed that you’ve been sleeping a lot. How are you feeling?”
  • “How are things going?”
  • “We’ve both been busy lately and I feel like we haven’t checked in with each other for a while. How are you?”
  • “It seems like you’ve been really down recently, and I’m worried about you. Are you ok?”

If they don’t want to talk or minimise their problems:

  • Avoid a confrontation. Pushing people to talk when they’re not ready can cause more harm than good.
  • Reiterate the changes you’ve noticed, and that you’re concerned. Let them know that you’re here if they ever want to talk. Encourage them to talk to someone else if that makes them more comfortable.
  • Get help if you’re worried about your loved one. A mental-health professional can give advice and provide you with support.

Sometimes the most important thing you can say is nothing. Give your loved one the opportunity to talk, and really listen. Pay them your full attention, it sends a powerful message that they are not alone. Resist the urge to jump into problem-solving mode.

Instead, listen and validate their experience by:

Asking clarifying questions:

  • “So things have been really stressful at work. Have I got that right?”
  • “Can I just check- are you saying ­­–?”
  • It sounds like this might have been going on for a while. Has it?”

Reflect back what they’re saying:

  • “That sounds really hard”
  • “That would be difficult to deal with”
  • “You’re really frustrated”
  • “I think it’s really understandable that you feel sad”

Remember not to rush into ‘fixing’ your loved one. Once you have a good understanding of their situation, ask them what you can do to help.

For some people, listening will be enough. For others, practical support might be needed. Be guided by their response.

If appropriate, it could be a good time to make a plan. This shows them that you are in this together. Brainstorm some short-term goals. Ask them what they’ve found helpful in the past.

Some simple things that can improve mood include:

  • Exercising
  • Eating regularly
  • Going to bed earlier
  • Socialising- even if it’s just texting or calling at first
  • Carving out ‘me time’ – for relaxing, reading, gardening, journaling, DIY jobs, etc.
  • Avoiding alcohol and other drugs

Encourage them to talk to other family and friends. Ask them how they feel about seeking professional support. There is something very powerful about talking to someone who can give a fresh perspective, without fear of judgement. 

Before you end the conversation, invite them to keep checking in and get permission to do the same. Some days will be better than others, and your support on the difficult days could make all the difference.

Remember – it’s ok not to be perfect.

Next up

Suicide warning signs

If you are concerned about someone, it is important to speak to them. Talking about suicide does not cause someone to become suicidal or ‘put ideas in their head’. A supportive and open conversation could save their life.

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