Concerned about Someone? (Family and Friends)

Supporting Others’ Mental Health and Wellbeing

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing, and right-doing, there is a field. I will meet you there. -- Rumi

Listening with Empathy and Respect

When someone we care about is suffering, it can be painful to witness. Sometimes it can be a challenge to make space for true listening, simply with the intention to understand and connect. We often wish for them to feel better, to do what it takes to change their thoughts, feelings, or actions so they can thrive, be healthy and happy, and to be their best selves. We may think we know what they need, and there may be some truth in our perceptions. However, it is important for people to make their own choices about the changes they want to make, about what they need to do and when, and about what supports, if any, they want to access. This includes accessing counselling services. Counselling is one of many healthy and proactive choices a person can make. By listening openly, you may help someone better understand their own experience and discover how they would like to build mental health and resilience in a meaningful way.

Some of the best gifts we can offer someone who is struggling are care, interest, and presence. If you are willing and able to do so, let the person you are concerned about know that you are there for them if they want your support. Let them know that you will do your best to be understanding, and that it’s ok for them to feel not ok sometimes! Take the time to listen without judgment or attempts to change how they feel or to tell them what you think they “should” do. Work on staying in a curious and compassionate mind-set (or heart-set)!

To listen is to lean in softly with a willingness to be changed by what we hear. - Marc Nepo

Every one of us has a mental health life that has ups and downs. It can be natural and even healthy at times for us to go through periods of darkness or difficulty. For example, grief is a natural response to loss. Sometimes the more difficult times are the times when important reflection or learning happens. We may emerge with a new appreciation or understanding about ourselves and the world. Sometimes, however, the difficult times feel unbearable or ongoing and a person may continue to be unsure how to regain health and balance. Try to avoid thinking you need to “fix” the situation or the person, and avoid judgments about whether a person’s experience is right or wrong. Showing curiosity and care, and helping someone to feel less alone can really help to ease the pain of these difficult times.

Offering Suggestions or Ideas

You may want to share advice, suggestions, or new perspectives. It is usually only after someone feels heard and understood by you that they might be open to this. It can be hard to think clearly and creatively when we are struggling, so an offer to help think through ways to cope or find support may be welcomed. Ask if they would like to talk about ideas with you, and take a collaborative approach. If they welcome this, you might share ideas of actions to take, or services that can support mental health and well-being. Try to frame these as offers or invitations, not “shoulds” or “musts”. Be prepared for the person who is struggling to say “no thanks, that won’t work for me", and do your best to accept this and to trust their expertise in their own lives.

Expressing Yourself

Sometimes it may feel important to us that others know how we are impacted by interactions with them. We may want to express worry, frustration, disappointment if our needs are not being met or if the person is not following through on responsibilities. We may need to set boundaries for ourselves, or to clarify our needs and desires. There are ways to do this honestly and respectfully. It can take practice! Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is one model to help us to communicate compassionately. Check out Non-Violent Communication: The Language of Life. A reminder when communicating is to speak about your own experience – what you observe, how you feel, what your interpretations are, what you need or wish for, and/or what you are planning to do. Pay attention to your tone. Can you find some softness and gentleness, or if you need to be firm, can you still convey kindness?

Caring for Yourself

Supporting people who are struggling with their mental health can feel fulfilling and nurturing, and at times it can be stressful, draining, or confusing. Find balance by taking care of yourself. They tell us in an airplane to put our own oxygen masks on first before we help someone else. It’s the same with caring for others! Do what you can to keep yourself healthy, set limits when you need to, and find support when you need it. 

  • Try this simple science-based “Quick Coherence Technique” to help manage your own emotions and energy. 

If you are concerned about a student at VIU and you’re not sure how to support them, you can consult with the Counselling Team. Sometimes we will agree to reach out to students and invite them in to meet with us if they would like.

Practicing Letting Go

Because we are empathic humans, it hurts to see other people hurting. Sometimes we want to control others to help ourselves feel better. Letting go of efforts to control another’s life may take awareness and practice! What does letting go mean to you?

Letting Go, Author unknown

To let go doesn't mean to stop caring;
It means I can't do it for someone else.
To let go is not to cut myself off...
It's the realization that I can't control another...
To let go is not to enable,
but to allow learning from natural consequences.
To let go is to admit powerlessness,
which means the outcome is not in my hands.
To let go is not to try and change or blame another,
I can only change myself.
To let go is not to care for, but to care about.
To let go is not to fix, but to be supportive.
To let go is not to judge,
but to allow another to be a human being.
To let go is not to be in the middle arranging all the outcomes,
but to allow others to affect their own outcomes.
To let go is not to be protective,
It is to permit another to face reality.
To let go is not to deny, but to accept.
To let go is not to nag, scold, or argue,
but to search out my own shortcomings and correct them.
To let go is not to adjust everything to my desires,
but to take each day as it comes and cherish the moment.
To let go is not to criticize and regulate anyone,
but to try to become what I dream I can be.
To let go is not to regret the past,
but to grow and live for the future.
To let go is to fear less and love more.

About Confidentiality

Counselling Services is confidential. We recognize that out of care, you may wish to know if someone is seeking support. If you know someone who has come to see us and you’re wondering how they are doing, or if you are wondering whether someone has accessed services, you may choose to follow up with that person. Counsellors will neither confirm nor deny whether any student has received our services. The only exceptions to this are if:

  • A person under the age of 19 needs protection
  • Individuals are likely to cause injury to themselves or others
  • We are ordered by a court to provide confidential information

Safety Concerns? Crisis?

There are times when someone might be struggling so much that they are considering harming themselves or others. If you are concerned about someone’s immediate safety, do not hesitate to call 911. Safety is a priority, and it is important to intervene in these moments.

You can also call the Vancouver Island Crisis Line at 1.888.494.3888 to consult with them about what to do if someone is in crisis and you’re not sure how to support them, or if you’re wondering about services.


For more information, stories, and suggestions about supporting someone who may be struggling with their mental health: