When a friend or family member is going through a difficult time, it can be worrying for everyone involved. You might find it hard to understand what they are going through and you might be uncertain as to how you can help. You can be there for them by listening to them and helping them access professional support if they need it.
Ask, listen and offer your support
If you think that someone you know might be having problems, try talking directly to them about your concerns. People often want to talk but find it hard to start the conversation. Most people will turn to a friend or family for support during tough times, so being there for them can really help. They may also need your support while they look for professional help.
You can help by:
- Asking open questions about how they are feeling.
- Talking gently about your concerns and the things you have noticed.
- Giving them time and space to tell you about what they are going through.
- Listening carefully to their responses, without being judgmental or offering solutions.
- After you hear them out, make your decision about how serious you think the problem is and whether you need to encourage him or her to get professional support.
For many people, just asking – and listening – will help. It can be a huge relief for the other person to know you are aware of the struggle they are having, you are willing to listen with an open mind, and that you are there to help if they need it.
They may feel such relief that you noticed and have taken the time to ask them about it, that the problem will simply resolve itself by talking it out with you. However, if you are still worried about them, talk to a G.P. for advice. See reasons to seek help for mental health problems for information on when a person might consider talking to a G.P. or support service.
When someone tells you they are having problems and you think they need professional support:
If you have been (or are currently) supported by a mental health service, get in touch with the service and ask for an appointment or request contact/ visit from the assigned Community Mental Health Nurse. They will provide advice and support relevant to your current situation.
New to mental health services:
If they are not linked with mental health services, encourage the person to attend or bring them to a G.P. or to the Emergency Department. You can find G.P.s and Hospitals on the HSE.ie online service finder. You can also find local supports and services in our Find Services section. Find out more about accompanying someone to the health services.
If you feel you are in any way at risk from the person (or you have been assaulted or threatened), do not hesitate to contact the Gardaí.
If they are having thoughts of harming themselves: remove access to any means of suicide or self harm– such as medicines, a rope, etc. Stay with them while you’re making contact with the services mentioned above. Do not leave them on their own. Once you have contacted the services, go with them to their appointment.
Family and friends also play a key role in supporting your loved one’s recovery. Reconnecting with people is an important part of a person’s recovery from mental health problems. Find out more about recovery.
What if they are unwilling to consider getting help?
It is usually better that the person goes for help themselves. This can be difficult to accept when you are worried about someone. But it is important for them to acknowledge that help is necessary, and going voluntarily for help, is an important part of the process of recovery. Continue to listen to the person, let them know you are there for them, and share your concerns with them. If you are very close to the person or living with them, it is important to mind your own mental health. Learn more about supports for family and friends.
You believe the person is a danger to themselves or others
Sometimes a person will not consider getting help, but are a real danger to themselves or others. In this situation, you can call the Gardaí on 999 to help. If a Garda has reasonable grounds for believing that a person is suffering from a mental illness and that, because of the illness, there is a serious likelihood of the person causing harm to him/herself or another person, the Garda may assist in having the person admitted to mental health services involuntarily. This is a last resort in a crisis situation.
Information on involuntary detention
The Mental Health Act 2001 sets out provisions and principles that apply to anyone who is admitted involuntarily to mental health services in Ireland. You can find more information about involuntary detention and the Mental Health Act 2001 from the following websites:
- The Mental Health Commission provides a booklet about your rights under mental health law. This booklet answers a number of questions about mental health services including admission to hospital, your rights when receiving treatment, giving consent to treatment, and having a mental health tribunal. The booklet is useful for mental health service users and for family members, carers and loved ones. You can download the booklet on the Mental Health Commission website.
- The Mental Health Commission also provides a leaflet about involuntary admission procedures.
- Citizens Information offers information on admission to a psychiatric hospital and the rights of psychiatric patients.
- Information on H.S.E. Authorised Officers is available on the ie website.