Five tips to support a loved one’s mental health

At more than two years into the COVID-19 crisis, our community is still facing incredible challenges that are impacting our neighbors’ mental health. United Way and our partner nonprofits have seen it firsthand.

“We are hearing about increases in anxiety, lower moods, and individuals are generally feeling more isolated and searching for different ways to cope with stress,” said Megan Denton-Gillette, MA, LCPC, director of clinical and community counseling services at Call For Help, Inc. “Some are feeling a loss of control and finding it difficult to feel hopeful about the future.”

Whether it’s a relative, friend or co-worker, there are many ways you can help someone who may be struggling. Here are some tips from local experts for how to support your loved ones’ mental health.

1. If you notice a change, ask how you can help.

You may notice changes in behaviors or moods if someone is struggling, such as suddenly feeling unmotivated or down, changes in sleep or eating habits, or no longer doing the things they enjoy, said the clinical staff at Provident Behavioral Health. Asking about these changes can start important conversations, which can look different for everyone. But often, the best thing to do is ask if there’s any way you can help.

“The best way is just to let people know you’re thinking of them, that you know it’s a hard time and everybody is experiencing it differently, and if there’s something you can do to help them out, that you’re there,” said Charise Baker, MS, LPC, clinical director at Jewish Family Services.

You could offer to drop off groceries for them, ask if they’d like to take a walk with you, or anything else that could lighten their load and help them feel not so alone.

2. Keep communication open.

When a loved one is struggling, checking in regularly – even just with a simple text, call or email – builds trust and can help them feel more comfortable coming to you for support. Inviting them when you make plans also helps them feel appreciated and part of the group, even if they decide not to come.

“There’s a lot of support in being together and doing fun things,” said Nancy Phillips-Kuelker, MSW, LCSW, director of behavioral health services at Affinia Healthcare. “It can be a Zoom game night or a socially distanced picnic. It doesn’t have to be about mental health concerns to help someone’s mood shift.”

3. Offer to connect them with resources.

With 36 nonprofits in United Way’s safety net working in mental health, there are many resources in the St. Louis region to help. Together, these organizations helped 23,182 local people experience fewer mental, emotional, and/or behavioral symptoms and aided 5,485 people in spreading awareness about behavioral and mental health issues in 2020.

You can get connected to the many resources for mental health in our community through United Way 2-1-1 by dialing 2-1-1 (1.800.427.4626) or visiting You can call for yourself, to get advice to help a friend or even on behalf of someone you know who may be struggling.

4. Share about your own experiences.

Can you relate to your friend’s challenges? Self-disclosing – talking about what you’ve experienced – can help them not feel so alone, build trust and open the door to future conversations.

Reina Baez, LMFT, mental health director at Bilingual International Assistant Services of Greater St. Louis, suggests starting by saying something like, “I’ve noticed you’ve been down. I’ve been through this; I’m happy to share with you the challenges I had.”

5. Sometimes, it’s best to just listen.

It can be very painful to not feel understood, and often, someone who is struggling just wants to be heard, noted Sara Hunter, clinical supervisor at Caritas Family Solutions. That’s why simply listening can make the biggest impact.

“It’s most helpful and easiest to listen and not give advice,” Phillips-Kuelker agreed. “People don’t want to be told how to get better. What helps heal is to be understood. Listen with an open heart. Put in the time to listen and share.”

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James Taylor
James Taylor