One in five Canadians suffer from a mental illness, so chances are you know someone who does. If you do, you can offer support in a number of ways.

“I recommend you do a lot of listening,” said Donna Tchida, director of adult community services, addiction and mental health with Alberta Health Services. “Be there for that person when you can.” Non-judgemental support is important, otherwise that individual may shut you out.

Try to understand that person’s perspective or what changed. “Don’t do too much digging,” said Tchida. “Let them talk, express themselves. Share how you’ve gotten through certain situations. Sometimes that helps.”

Franki Harrogate, a graduate student counselor and founder of Arclight Counselling Services, said many mental health conditions are isolating.

“Knowing that people have your back and are willing to help or at the very least are supportive of your healing journey can make a big difference,” Harrogate added. Support can vary from helping someone access mental health supports to being present when someone calls a support organization to helping practice coping strategies.

A family doctor can help direct patients to appropriate resources and the 211 helpline is also useful, as the operator can offer resources.

Use 211 “to assist someone in finding supports to avoid a crisis or if you are experiencing distress and may need more information/resources,” said city staff within the citizen services, community inclusion and investment branch.

If someone is experiencing a mental health crisis, call a resource like the PACT team at 780.342.7777.

“PACT partners a police constable with a registered nurse, registered psychiatric nurse, or social worker. The team provides on-site assessments and intervention. This team approach is used to assess, manage, and decide the most appropriate action,” said Harrogate.

Or, call the 24-Hour Distress Line at 780.482.4357.

Emma Potter, acting manager of helplines for Canadian Mental Health Association, said operators can help de-escalate a crisis.

“We help people understand their crisis, what’s triggered it, and how we can help. If we can’t de-escalate the crisis, we connect them to emergency services.”

Operators connect people to resources needed to address that crisis and ask people what resources they have. They can also guide callers to resources like affordable counselling or peer support programs (someone with lived experience of a mental health concern).

Suggest help is available if you notice something’s out of the ordinary for that person.

“If someone is experiencing a psychotic break, is in crisis, is actively suicidal, or is simply beyond your skill level to assist, there is no shame in reaching out for more support,” Harrogate added. The role of non-professionals isn’t to provide counselling or therapy, but to provide support and help in accessing these services.

Harrogate said some people can appear to function, while others can’t. “The more familiar you are with someone, the likelier it is that you will notice if their behaviour drastically changes. If you’re not sure but suspect that something is going on, check in with other friends or family members.”

If someone is no longer able to cope, changes in behaviour may include crying, lack of focus or drive, insomnia, changes in hygiene, or withdrawal from normal connections.

“You might notice they’re so anxious in public they can’t go out,” Tchida said. “The person is verbalizing different thoughts and feelings than previously and that aren’t in keeping with what they’re usually like,” she explained. “They feel a lot despair, don’t want to interact with people, or there’s an increase in drug or alcohol use.”

Other signs include “constant panic attacks, chronic states of anxiety, not leaving the house, etc. Basically, any sort of ongoing state where the person in question is experiencing symptoms that severely limit their ability to care for themselves and perform necessary tasks is a sign that they are no longer able to work things through on their own,” said Harrogate.

If someone is at serious risk of harming themselves or others, call 911.




Mental Health Help Line: 1.877.303.2642

PACT Team: 780.342.7777

24-Hour Distress Line: 780.482.4357

Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton’s 24 hour Support and Information: 780.423.4121

Chelsea Butler, AHS advocacy wayfinder coordinator (helps navigate system): 780.414.6300


Use the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention’s “IS PATH WARM” to identify warning signs: Ideation, Substance abuse, Purposelessness, Anxiety, Trapped, Hopelessness, Withdrawal, Anger, Recklessness, Mood changes.

Featured Image: You can offer support in a number ways to someone struggling with mental health. | Pixabay