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Become an Emotional Support Human!

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Tips

We all struggle to know what to say, how to help, and when to help. Browse these tips and learn how we can support our loved ones.

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Starting a difficult conversation.

There can be a lot of fear and anxiety around starting a conversation. Overcome that fear by mentally preparing – try to imagine how you would feel in their situation.

Expect each person to respond differently.

Let them respond and talk as much – or as little – as they need.

Choose locations that work for them.

Recognize the pandemic may affect where people are comfortable meeting for a long time to come. Going outside or online may work well.

Recognize burnout.

High levels of stress can make many of us feel “burnt out.” This can look like exhaustion, isolation, frequent illness, and cynicism. Be aware of these signs and symptoms in your loved ones.

Choose a moment that works for them.

Send messages or suggest meeting times when it best fits their schedule.

“Is this a good time to talk? When is a better time?”

Consider sending a text.  

It’s OK to start the conversation with a text message. Make sure to follow up and offer other places to talk.

Celebrate small wins.

When someone is going through a tough time, they may see tasks as huge obstacles. Ask them how they might break big tasks down into smaller parts. And then celebrate each milestone they reach. Let them know that you see and appreciate their progress.

Create a safe space.

Let them know their answers won’t change what you think about them.

Show you’re ready to listen.

Don’t start a conversation while you’re distracted. Give your full attention.

Let them set the pace.

Use open ended questions that encourage conversations instead of drilling them with back-to-back questions.

Just listen.

Sometimes just listening is enough. Avoid interrupting and offering quick fixes.

Do I accept when things are challenging for them?

Be patient and don’t hold their bad days against them.

Expect each person to respond differently.

Let them respond and talk as much – or as little – as they need.

It can be challenging.

Supporting someone you care for isn’t always easy. Sometimes stress can come between you and them but remember that you are not alone. Make sure to recharge by taking care of your own well-being.

Create a judgement-free zone.

Ask questions like, “How are you feeling?”

Am I taking it personally?

Remember, mental health is a continuum with bad days and good days. Be understanding.

Am I expecting their illness will be fixed and disappear?

Reflect on your expectations for them to be “cured.”

Overcoming fear.

Beginning those difficult conversations can be scary, but there is no “right” way to support someone. Be calm, patient, and understanding to create a safe space for them to open up.

“Tough times in the news today. How are you holding up?”

"How is therapy going?"

If you know someone is in therapy, it’s OK to ask them about it.

“How have you been feeling, lately, really?”

“It might just be me, but you haven’t  seemed like yourself lately. Is everything OK?”

Keep the conversation going.

Encourage them to continue what they want to talk about by using reassuring phrases, such as “please continue, I’m listening” and “tell me more about that.”

Do my conversations always include giving advice?

Learn how to listen without offering fixes.

Validate their feelings and concerns.

Offer validation by saying things like, “I can understand why you feel that way,” or “that must be really hard.”

“What can I do to help you feel better?”

Know when to pause the conversation.

Sometimes conversations can feel heavier than anticipated. If you’re not comfortable, ask to pause the conversation. You can maintain boundaries that feel healthy for you too – let them know when you will be able to engage again or help them find another person to talk to.

Check your body language.

Keep a comfortable distance. Consider sitting next to them rather than in front. Be mindful of your hands, and try to keep them where they can see them.

Use feeling words. Try asking about:

Stress.

Worry.

Sadness.

Do NOT tell someone to “get over it” or “snap out of it.” Instead, ask what you can do to help them feel better.

Do NOT say “you’re probably just tired.” Instead, use feeling words to ask about their stress, worry, or sadness.

"Are you dealing with a stressful time right now?"

“Hey, you haven’t been responding to my  texts lately. Are you OK?”

“Is anything bringing you joy this week?”

You don’t have to move mountains.

Appreciate the small ways your support brightens someone’s day. Having a friend take you up on that offer for a coffee date is a win. Celebrate it!

“Can I better understand your mental health condition?”

When you become more familiar with their symptoms, you can better understand their experience.

Find new ways to spend time together.

Consider a chat from your car, order a special treat, or enjoy a movie or book together.

Know when to defer to a professional.

As an emotional support human, you are not a therapist. Suggesting they talk to a mental health professional can be one of the most important ways you provide support.

My friend seems burnt out, what can I do?

Remind them that it’s okay to take a break and to focus on their own needs. Ask them how they like to recharge and invite them to brainstorm ways that work for them. Maybe it’s a spa day, road trip, or streaming marathon. If they prefer taking a break with friends rather than solo activities, and it is safe, offer to join them on a day off to refresh.

Continue to show up.

You’ve reached out and hung out. It’s about continuing to show up. A small gesture at a time over a long period builds trust. It shows they matter.

You are not alone.

Across our community, other emotional support humans are showing up for their loved ones every day. Join us in this growing movement.

Include them in plans.

Even if they don't feel like joining, let them know they're welcome.

"Can I help with a task?"

Offer to help with chores, like picking up groceries or taking their pet for a walk.

"Can I offer you a ride?"

If safe, offer them a ride to an upcoming appointment or join them on the bus.

Be an advocate.

Show up for others by advocating for mental health services in our community.

Make them a meal.

Offer to make a favorite meal or tasty dessert. You can enjoy it together or just drop it off.

Help them find help.

If they need a mental health professional, you can help them research.

Choose your response to common scenarios and practice talking about mental health.

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Illustration of woman waving to her friend whose face is downcast