Mental Health 101: How to help someone with unhealthy coping mechanisms

Aquarius life

In difficult times, people engage in a range of strategies to help them cope.

Drinking, drug use, or gambling is an act that someone does to gain, avoid or escape certain things.

These behaviours are learned and maintained in the context of each person’s whole life – this means their family, employment, housing, biology, cultural background and other personal and social challenges all have an impact on behavioural patterns.

When times become difficult, particularly with mental health in mind, behaviours can escalate and sometimes spiral.

Top tips to help someone open up

In our society where use of alcohol, drugs and gambling are common strategies to cope with mental health issues like anxiety and depression we all have an obligation to support one another by talking about the situation.

However, it can be difficult to have these conversations. The person with the problem might feel a stigma and struggle to open up and the person attempting to provide support might lack confidence in discussing the topic or perhaps even has their own unconscious biases.

Here are some basic tips to help someone open up if you think there might be a problem;

Ask open-ended questions

“Tell me about what’s happening for you” is much better than asking a closed question like “are you ok?”


Encourage change-talk

“What would you like to see different about your current situation?” encourages an individual to reflect on their situation and look optimistically into the future.


Listen reflectively

“It sounds to me like…” lets a person know that they have been heard and that you understand them.


Normalise behaviours

“Many people have difficulties dealing with anxiety and might drink to help them get through it” creates a situation in which the person feels less alone in their struggle. 


Be supportive

“How can I help you get past some of the difficulties you are experiencing?” allows the person to see they have practical support in their journey.


Affirm progress

“Your commitment to make changes/improve really shows” provides an acknowledgement of how far someone has come, which can be difficult to realise for them.


Roll with any resistance

“What do you think needs to happen for things to improve?” places the responsibility with the individual and avoids potential over prescription, which can lead to conflict.



All in all, these are ways to have dialogue with someone that might be engaging in poor coping responses. It is crucial to know what support is available as well, as this often provides a good conclusion – the plan moving forward.

Aquarius Life provides workplaces with a range of options to ensure their people are effectively safeguarded against the risks posed by misuse of alcohol, drugs and gambling.

We help businesses with policy support, training and can provide 1:1 telephone support for anyone affected by issues related to alcohol, drugs and gambling (this includes being affected by someone else’s use).

Aquarius Life can support a range of complexity from emerging concerns about recent changes in behaviours through to existing issues.

For more details or for any advice email or call 0330 0083 965.