How can you help?

talking mental health logoIt can be very difficult to know what to do when someone you care about is distressed and unwell. You don't need to be an expert to help though, and below are some tips on what you can do.

Get informed. There is a lot of information on mental health problems. Organizations like Mind, Rethink, NHS choices and Carers UK are good places to start getting information for yourself so you understand more about what may be happening. Links are included at the end of this section for you to start accessing information.

Talk. It is always OK to ask how someone is. Even if people don't want to talk about it, they may appreciate you asking. Spending time with people can be helpful too, as many people who are ill report that others start to avoid them. Being around shows you care, and can help you understand what is going on. However, it is really helpful to keep as much normality as you can, so don't make all your conversations about their mental health.

Offer help. When people are anxious or depressed, they may struggle to do normal day-to-day activities or ask for help. Look for things you can offer to do, like helping with shopping, giving lifts to appointments, or even going for a walk together. For many people who haven't had psychological help before, going to a first appointment can be very scary and they may appreciate support with this.

Listen. People generally feel better when they can talk about what is bothering them.You don't have to solve their problems - in fact, for many people, this will stop them wanting to talk about their problems. Telling people to cheer up or get themselves together is never helpful.

Remember yourself. You can only help people if you look after yourself. You may have to say no to things in order to do that. Make sure you are eating and sleeping well and not overstretching yourself, and that you have people to support you too. Some organisations have online forums where carers can support each other. If you do seek online support, do remember safety rules online and don't give identifying information about yourself or your loved one.


Anyone from a health service who works with a client is bound by confidentiality rules. This is necessary to keep people's information private. In therapy, this helps people open up and share sensitive information that they may not discuss otherwise. For friends or family members, this can be very frustrating, as you may wish to know what is happening, but are unable to get information. This section explores confidentiality rules and your options.

The law says that someone has to keep your information confidential if:

The information is private,

Other people don't already know the information,

You want it to be kept private,

The professional(s) know this.

This means that your conversations with doctors, nurses, solicitors, advisers and other professionals such as therapists will be confidential.

NHS staff have to follow the NHS Code of Practice on Confidentiality. You can read more at Data Security and Information Governance. The professional accrediting bodies for counsellors and psychotherapists also have their own rules on this in their ethical frameworks, which you can see at:

BACP - British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy - Ethics and Standards.

BABCP - British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies - Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics.

Sharing information with consent

If your friend or family member wants you to be able to give or get information about their care, they can talk to us about this. They will be asked for consent to share information, which the service will make a note of. A service must usually ask you before they share information. The client can limit what information is shared, so may request that no information is given, or only some information. For example, they may be happy for us to confirm they are having treatment, but not give details of treatment and care needs.   

Most therapists will be happy to have a friend or family member to come along to a session to give or get more information, but will want to discuss this privately with their client first.

Sharing information without consent

Breaking confidentiality is a serious issue and healthcare professionals will only share information without consent if there is a risk of serious harm to or from the client or there is a risk of a serious crime. If someone tells us that they are going to kill themselves or someone else, we could decide to share this information with someone, or contact the police. Where possible, we will get consent to share information, even in these circumstances, but only if it is safe for the therapist to do so.

In certain circumstances, personal information may be shared if this is for the public good. For example, all NHS staff are required to report people at risk of radicalisation. Personal information can also be shared if this is required by law, so, for example, a court could order us to release your notes.

Useful Links

Knowing how to support people with problems can be very stressful. Having some information about what may be going on, and how you can help, can really help. The following links will take you to information that you may find useful.