How to support someone with a mental health issue

boy feeling down mental health issues

Lou Sanz

Posted September 03, 2021

Rolling lockdowns and growing stressors associated with COVID-19 have seen a spike in demand for mental health support service Lifeline Australia.

In August, Lifeline responded to a record 3,505 calls in a single day, with the support service experiencing a 40% increase on pre-pandemic call numbers as more and more Australians reach out for help.

Lifeline Australia offers a range of support services, including online resources, phone support, community hubs, and Lifeline Text which allows people to text directly with a crisis support worker. 

With the text service facing increasing demand from Australians, RACV has pledged $420,000 for Lifeline to extend its operating hours from midnight to dawn. The funding will support a six-month trial of the overnight text service, beginning in mid-October.

RACV Managing Director and CEO Neil Taylor said the new partnership with Lifeline would allow them to provide invaluable support for all Australians.

"These are challenging times for many across Australia, and organisations such as Lifeline have never been more important – we wish that was not the case," he says.

"The challenges of mental health and wellbeing are rightfully gaining more of a voice as we all navigate the challenges of COVID-19, and we hope that this funding and the associated new service helps some more people get the help they need."

Lifeline Australia Chief Executive Officer Colin Seery said the support would go a long way to supporting people in crisis and saving lives.

"We are incredibly grateful for this support from RACV, which gives us the chance to support even more people in crisis reaching out for help," Mr Seery says.

And while it's a positive that people are looking for help, there is always going to be those in the community who either don't think their feelings warrant a call to a support service or don't know where to start when it comes to getting help or even support someone they know who's struggling.  

Head of Crisis Services and Quality at Lifeline Australia, Rachel Bowes, says services like Lifeline want to encourage people to reach out for help "before they're desperate and reached crisis point". 

She shared her advice on ways to support yourself and those around you when it comes to mental health.  

man texting lifeline for support

Lifeline offer a range of services including call, text, and online chat for support. Image: Getty. 

Where to get help

It’s all fine to say, ‘get help,’ but often knowing where to find it is the biggest obstacle.

A good starting point is your local GP, who will have access to a range of resources depending on what support and help you need. Just like a general health check, your GP can also give you a Mental Health check-up and, if needed, work with you to devise a Mental Health Care Plan that might include a referral to a mental health professional for more specialised treatment. 

Lifeline is another good place to start when it comes to getting help. Their services have evolved over the years to offer support for a range of mental health issues, including:

Online support is also available. Downloadable resources like Lifeline's Toolkit and Beyond Blue's Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service make getting support when you need it more accessible. This includes texting and web chat options for those that don't want or are unable to call. In some cases, services also offer online community hubs so you can share your experiences and read from others, going a long way to help individuals feel connected, especially during times of isolation. 

I don’t need help. I’m just feeling sad

Sometimes it’s hard to articulate how we’re feeling, and depression, anxiety, thoughts of self-harm and suicide often have ways of manifesting that we don’t initially recognise without the help of a mental health professional or your local GP. 

It’s also easy to dismiss or minimise your own feelings of being flat or losing interest in activities that use to bring you joy. Or perhaps your moodiness and irritability are just par for the course of going through a pandemic. 

And while in some cases, getting into a routine, doing regular exercise, or talking with friends can help, it’s important to recognise and respond to any negative feelings and thoughts. 

Bowes suggests that one way to help recognise if your feelings and change in mood might be a sign of an underlying mental health issue is to keep a journal over a period of 10 to 14 days to ‘identify if your feelings are persistent and, in some cases, getting worse.’  If you realise these feelings aren’t going away, it’s best to talk with your GP or contact a support service like Lifeline to discuss the next steps.

Woman texting feeling down

 Speaking with your GP or a service like Lifeline can give you the right tools for further support. Image: Getty. 

I think my friend or loved one needs more support than I can offer

Being a shoulder to cry on and an ear to bend is part of being a good friend or family member, but sometimes when you ask the question 'Are you ok?' you might find yourself unprepared to hear or help with the answer. 

Sharing a problem with a friend over a cup of tea can help, but what happens when someone tells you that they're not ok, that they're not coping?

Bowes says it's essential to make time to have the conversation if you suspect that your friend or family member might be struggling. "Ask the question at a good and private time. It's about making sure you have time to ask the question and if your friend or family member want to answer."

Bowes advises to ask questions like:


  • Do you want to talk to me about how you’re feeling?
  • Have you felt like this before?
  • What did you do last time you felt like this? 
  • Has talking to me helped? 
  • Would you like to talk with someone else other than me (an elder, a teacher, a parent)? 
  • Do you need me to come with you to the GP? 
  • Did you know there are services you can call 24/7 if you need to talk to a mental health professional?

Empathy also helps. Saying something like, 'No wonder you're feeling how you are; you've got so much on your plate' is an empathetic way to validate your friend or family member's feelings without diminishing them.  If your friend or family member recognise that they need support, ask them what they'd like to do next, like talking with their GP, accessing online resources or calling a support line. 

Bowes says no matter the outcome, make sure your friend or family member knows you are there for them. "Don't just assume it's a one-off conversation, check in on your friend. Follow up," she says.

What about young adults and children?

While adults might be dealing with job loss, financial insecurity, workloads, and housing instability during the pandemic, young adults, teenagers, and children are not immune to the mental health issues it brings. For many parents, teachers, friends and for anyone else who works with young people, it's often hard to differentiate between when your child is just sad or a bit down versus depressed, anxious and in need of mental well-being support. 

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that young people between 18-24 are more likely to suffer mental health problems during the pandemic than any age group. It's why services like Lifeline are changing the ways they offer support by opening new channels of communications – text-based crisis support is one such option. 

When it comes to younger people, Bowes says there are some signs to look out for to help identify if they need support:


  • Feeling like no one understands
  • Feeling helpless, worthless, of no use
  • Showing signs or thoughts of self-harm
  • Mood swings
  • Sudden changes in performance at school, university, or their part-time job
  • Expressing negative thoughts such as 'people would be better off without me'
  • Engaging in substance misuse
man having mental health issues

 Many people may be affected by mental health issues at some point. Image: Getty.  

Much like with adults, listening without judgement and prejudice is important when it comes to talking with younger people, even children. Comments like ‘school doesn’t matter once you’re out in the real world’ aren’t very helpful, especially when children and teens are now heading into their second year of disrupted education.

Let the child know you’re there for them to talk and that it is a safe space to do so. Services like Kids Helpline and Headspace are invaluable and have great, actionable resources for kids as young as five, right through to support and information for carers and families. 

Lifeline expects high demand for mental health services to continue through this current period and beyond because these kinds of events leave a long tail of trauma. 

For crisis support or suicide intervention services:

Call: 13 11 14 (24/7)

Text: 0477 13 11 14 

Online chat (12pm -2am AEST)


RACV has partnered with Lifeline Australia to provide funding for critical health services to vulnerable Victorian communities. The two-year partnership funds the delivery of video and tele-health counselling and training for community members to be "Community Connectors" to equip locals to safely and effectively support those experiencing emotion distress or a crisis. The partnership aims to help reduce the long-term mental health impacts of the summer bushfires and Covid-19.