How can family and friends help?
This section is for friends and family members who want to support someone who has a phobia.
Take their phobia seriously
It can sometimes be difficult to understand why a person has a phobia of a particular situation or object, especially when their phobia seems irrational. However, it is really important that you take their phobia seriously and understand that it can cause them severe anxiety, panic and distress, and can affect their daily life. You may not understand why they are so afraid of something, but the anxiety and fear they feel is very real.
“I never complain because I see no point in doing so, but I get very tired of being politely mocked for my fear.”
Try to understand
- Find out as much as you can about phobias. This will help you understand what they are going through.
- You can try to find out about their personal experience of living with a phobia. You could ask them how their phobia affects their life and what things can make it better or worse. Listening to their experience might help you to empathise with how they feel.
Don’t apply pressure
While avoiding a situation can make a phobia worse over time, it can be extremely distressing if someone is forced to face situations when they are not ready.
Try not to put pressure on your friend or family member to do more than they feel comfortable with, or force them to face their phobia. It is really important to be patient with them and work at a pace they are comfortable with.
Find out what helps
Ask your friend or family member what you can do to help. For example, it might help to take them out of the situation, talk to them calmly or do breathing exercises with them. Often knowing that there is someone around who knows what to do if they start to feel frightened or panicked can help them feel safer and calmer.
“I feel better if I have someone with me who knows about my anxiety and how to calm me down. It helps if I just focus on that person talking.”
Support them to seek help
If you think your friend or family member’s phobia is becoming a problem for them, encourage them to seek appropriate treatment by talking to a family doctor or therapist.
- Offer to help them arrange a doctor’s appointment. See Seeking help for a mental health problem for more information on taking the first steps to getting help. If they are scared of leaving the house, you could suggest they ring their family doctor to find out if they will do home visits.
- Offer support when they attend appointments. You could offer to go with them to their appointments and wait in the waiting room. If they are scared of leaving the house, it can sometimes help just to have someone to walk with them. You can also help them plan what they’d like to talk about with the doctor.
- Help them seek help from a therapist. See Mind HK’s online information on how to access talking treatments.
- Help them research different options for support, such as community services or peer support groups. See our useful contacts for more information.
Look after yourself
It can sometimes be really challenging to support someone with a mental health problem – you are not alone if you feel overwhelmed at times. It is important to remember to look after your own mental health too, so you have the energy, time and distance you need to be able to help your friend or family member.
- Set boundaries and don’t take too much on. If you become unwell yourself you won’t be able to offer as much support. It is also important to decide what your limits are and how much you are able to help them. (See our pages on how to manage stress for more information.)
- Share your caring role with others, if you can. It’s often easier to support someone if you’re not doing it alone.
- Talk to others about how you’re feeling. You may want to be careful about how much information you share about the person you’re supporting, but talking about your own feelings with someone you trust can help you feel supported too.
For further suggestions see our resource on How to cope when supporting someone else, which gives practical suggestions on what you can do and where you can go for support.