Everyone has a “mental health toolkit” that helps them through good and bad times. It might contain self-care strategies, coping mechanisms for stressful days or people to turn to for support. As a Mental Health First Aider, your toolkit also includes tips and resources to help you support your peers, colleagues and loved ones who may be experiencing a mental health or substance use challenge. A key item to incorporate into your First Aider toolkit is empathy.
According to the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) curriculum, empathy is “being able to imagine yourself in the other person’s place, showing the person that they are truly heard and understood by you.” It’s different from sympathy, which means feeling pity for someone. It sounds simple, but it can take practice to demonstrate empathy on a moment’s notice.
The ability to empathize is just as important when times are good as it is during difficult times. Being able to recognize, understand and share the thoughts and feelings of another person is vital for us to connect, respond appropriately and help them when they need it most. When you display empathy, the person you’re with will likely feel included, heard and supported, instead of isolated and disconnected. That’s especially important when you’re offering Mental Health First Aid.
Empathy can also benefit your own wellbeing. Consistently practicing empathy improves your ability to effectively manage and respond to an emotional experience– so through the expression of empathy, you may be more equipped to handle stressful or emotionally challenging situations. In the end, it also helps you be more effective in managing your own stress.
Use these tips from the MHFA curriculum and other resources to help you practice empathy when supporting those around you.
If you’re unsure of what to say or do, try using sample language from the MHFA curriculum, such as, “It sounds like things are really difficult for you right now,” or “I am here for you if you want to talk about it.” Statements like these show that you care and want to help.
Practicing empathy benefits you and your loved ones. It ensures they receive the care and understanding they need to maintain long-lasting and healthy relationships. So, remember to listen, stay present, focus on their needs, and remove any barriers to understanding their thoughts and feelings. With these tips in mind, you will be able to #BeTheDifference for yourself and those around you.
For more ways on how you can support a loved one, take a look at our other blogs:
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Segal, E. A. (2018, December 17). Five Ways Empathy Is Good for Your Health. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/social-empathy/201812/five-ways-empathy-is-good-your-health.