Starting a conversation about support

Starting a conversation with someone about them needing support can be tricky at the best of times. Whether the person potentially needing support is a family member, or a friend you’ve known for a few years, it’s important to raise the subject in order to help them and put your own mind at rest.

If you are worried about the person

If you are worried the person is showing symptoms of a particular condition or has changed recently, there are a few things you can do to raise the issue:

  • Choose your moment
    Be careful not to just blurt out that someone needs support in the middle of an argument or when they are preoccupied with something, such as watching TV or reading.
  • Find the right Atmosphere
    Try and make sure you are alone without distractions, as this could create an awkward atmosphere if they pretend they haven’t heard you. Be prepared that the person may get emotional.
  • Make it personal
    Try and bring up the subject in person. This way you can read their body language and response will be immediate. However, if you find it hard to talk face-to-face or depending on your relationship emailing or writing down your concerns to them might help. Just be prepared that you may have to bring this up in person as well if they do not mention it, or ignore it.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions
    Even if you’ve suspected that something has not been not right for a while it will not be helpful to say “I told you so” or “you’ve definitely got this condition”. Encourage them to see a GP for a professional diagnosis.

How to start the conversation

This will probably be the hardest part, often not knowing what to say can be the reason people put off broaching the subject. The best way is to ensure that this will be a two-way conversation. This means using lots of open statements such as:

  • “I want to discuss… to see how we can help you…”
  • “I want to make sure that you’re comfortable/happy/safe with ….”
  • “How do you feel today?…”
  • “What do you think about getting assistance/getting help/seeing someone about…”

Throughout the conversation

  • Listen to their concerns without judgement.
  • Do not interrupt.
  • Try not to fix their issue: there might very little you can do.
  • Try not to brush over or generalise their situation or issue.
  • Empathise and say things such as: “it sounds like you’ve been having a rough time” is a lot better than “I know what you’re going through…”
  • Be open minded – do not jump to conclusions and think about if what they’re saying is really what they mean.
  • Be careful of your body language- don’t appear too close to them as they might feel intimated and try not to fidget.

The response

Be patient. If the person refuses to acknowledge there is a problem, try not to nag them or keep reminding them about it. Sowing the seed that you think someone is finding things harder than they used to might be enough to prompt them to seek their own support. It might help to leave a couple of leaflets around the house in order to encourage them to read them in their own time and at their own pace.

Make sure that they know you can be there for them, and let them know that if they want to talk about their issues, you will listen. If you think they might in immediate danger either to themselves or from someone else please click here.

Ask their opinion about what they want, before you say your suggestions. This will help the person you care about show that they are in control of their situation and have choices about the next steps.

Once they have talked to you about their thoughts and wishes you can then discuss the options available. Again, it’s important to remain open minded at this point, so the person you’re talking to can think about potential options on their own.

You don’t have to decide everything in one sitting, it’s a good idea to think about things rather than make any quick decisions that your friend or relative may come to regret later on. This will also give you both some time to find out more information about possible outcomes.

If they don’t want to talk about it

The person may not want to discuss your concerns with you. Try not to take this personally – everyone has their own coping mechanisms and has a right to talk to whoever they wish.

Try and ensure that they can talk to someone about how they are feeling, or they know where to access support when they are ready to talk it. This could involve seeking professional help such as from their GP or a counsellor/psychologist. They could also try talking to another family member or close friend.

Continuing conversations

Once you’ve had an initial conversation about support, it might be easier to discuss it further. Simply asking “how are you feeling today?” can open up a conversation more than “are you ok?” This can then spark a conversation about the condition, and can lead to talking about other issues too.

Remember to talk about other things as well as their situation. If you only ask questions about their issue rather than having normal everyday conversations, the person may start to feel defined by their circumstances, rather than who they are as a person. They are still the same person, and are not and should not be defined by their condition. Be sure to provide lots of reassurance and comfort throughout the whole process. It is important to assure your loved one that you have their best interests’ are central to your decision making and would not want to compromise this at any point.

Accept that there will be good days and bad days. We all have these, and having a long term health condition can intensify these days. For example if someone has depression or anxiety they may be cancelling social events more often than they did before. Again, try not to take this personally and maybe offer to go over for a quick cup of tea or suggest something low-key. Even if they do not accept this offer, to know that you are thinking of them can mean a lot to a person. Remember to empathise with the person, even if their situation is upsetting to you and other people.

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