And so on to our final part of the ALGEE series, which is to ‘Encourage the person to use self-help strategies.’
What I said in the previous post about the word ‘encourage’ is important here too:
- You are encouraging the person to use self-help strategies;
- You are not telling them what to do;
- You are not doing it for them;
- You are not trying to take control off them;
- If they ask you to do something for them (and it is something you can do) it is fine to do this – they have asked you and they are still in control;
- Remember that the focus is on the word encourage and not tell, order or instruct.
So, what are self-help strategies?
A person who is struggling with a mental health problem can do many things to help themselves get well.
I’m not going to reveal anything earth-shattering here and I’m pretty sure that you could make a guess at many of these self-help strategies yourself.
This list is not exhaustive, but it should give you an idea of the types of things you may wish to suggest.
- Exercise – Exercise has been proven to be good for mental health. It releases feel-good chemicals that help us feel happier. Exercising may be the last thing that the person feels like doing, but it really does help. This page from the Mental Health Foundation gives lots of advice regarding exercise and mental health. I particularly like it as there is a section on ‘overcoming barriers’, and a couple of helpful podcasts also.
- Healthy eating – Healthy eating is important not just for your physical health but for your mental health also. Here is a really useful guide to ‘Healthy eating for depression’. Don’t be fooled by the word ‘depression’ in the title. The information in it is beneficial to everyone – mental health problem or not. Again, the last thing that someone struggling with their mental health will probably want to do is to eat healthy – after all, this usually involves preparation / cooking. They may be struggling with lack of motivation so are unlikely to want to cook. Even by just following one or two of the tips in the guide is a good starting point, however.
- Self-care – It can be difficult to take care of yourself when you are struggling with a mental health problem. Even little things like showering can become a major challenge. This blog post has some tips that the person may find helpful to help them care for themselves.
- Don’t isolate – It might be that the person feels like shutting themselves away and not facing the world. They should be encouraged to try to keep contact with those around them. Isolating themselves will only make the problem worse. If they do not feel up to going out and visiting family or friends, they could ask their loved ones to visit them. This might not always be possible, but it is a good idea also to leave the house at least once a day – even if it is just to walk to the bottom of the street and back again.
- Peer support – Taking part in peer support activities can be invaluable. There is nothing that eases the pain of a mental health problem, quite like connecting with someone who understands first-hand what you are going through. Are there any local support groups that they could join? Can they access support online e.g. through support forums etc?
- Managing their mental health – The more a person is able to manage their own mental health, the more in control they will feel. Feeling in control is very important for their mental wellbeing. How can they manage their mental health? They may find it helpful to track their progress each day using a chart such as the one described in this blog post. They may find it helpful to make their own safety plan for times when they are in crisis. They may also find it helpful to complete a weekly planner, to use a mood diary, a panic diary, or a food diary. There are lots of other ways that they can manage their own mental health – the more individual it is to them, the more likely it is to work.
- Writing – Writing can be a great method to allow them to express how they are feeling and to therefore help them cope with difficult thoughts. They need nothing more than a pen and paper. They may choose to share it with others, such as professional support workers, or they may choose to keep it for themselves. What is important is to do what feels most right for them.
As I mentioned, the above list of self-help strategies are not exhaustive. I’m sure you will be able to think of many more. The ones that are even more likely to work are the ones that the person thinks of themselves.
After all they are self-help strategies.
It is also worth noting the importance of the word strategies. ‘Strategies’ suggests long-term – meaning than none of these are short-term, quick-fix solutions. The person did not get mentally unwell overnight – similarly, they are not going to get better overnight. All of these require long-term constant work. They won’t be easy and they take a lot of effort but they do work – I know.
- Ask (about suicide)
- Listen (non-judgementally)
- Give (reassurance and information)
- Encourage (the person to get professional help)