Kelly D. Holder, Ph.D.

One question that I often get as a clinical psychologist and wellbeing leader is, “What can I do when someone I love, care about, or work with is struggling with a mental health problem?” While each person’s situation is unique, there are steps we can take as supporters to foster a culture of support and wellness wherever we are. I want to share with you five steps you can take, summarized in the acronym ALERT. I like this acronym because it reminds us to remain vigilant and attentive to the needs of others, as well as our own needs. 

A – Be AWARE: Familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of deteriorating mental health.One significant indicator that warrants intervention is a clear and abrupt change in behavior. Changes in sleeping patterns, eating habits, hygiene practices, social interactions, or mood may signal a decline in mental health.  You can actively improve your knowledge of these symptoms by becoming trained through courses like Mental Health First Aid or Question Persuade. Refer (QRP). If suicide is a concern, there are additional steps you can take to keep your friend safe such as connecting them with supports like the 988 Lifeline. To learn more about these steps visit

L – LISTEN: Take the time to listen attentively. Express your concern about the observed changes in their behavior and encourage them to share what’s on their mind. Create a safe space for open dialogue without judgment. Your goal in listening is to better understand the situation, convey your care and support, and learn about their needs.

E – ENCOURAGE: Support healthy coping mechanisms and help-seeking behaviors. Without assigning blame, encourage them to seek the support they require, whether it be through existing coping strategies or by reaching out to professional help. You can say something like, “Managing this level of stress has to be challenging. Do you have any healthy strategies for coping?” or  “You don’t have to figure this out on your own. Have you considered seeking counseling? I’d be happy to assist you in finding the right support.”

R – REFER: Provide them with resources and encourage them to seek assistance. Remind them that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Offer information about available resources, such as counseling services or support groups. Even if they don’t reach out immediately, knowing where to turn for help can be invaluable in the future.  

T – TAKE TIME for Yourself: Remember to prioritize your well-being. While supporting others, it’s essential not to neglect your own needs. Engage in activities that replenish and rejuvenate you after challenging conversations. Whether it’s mindfulness exercises, meditation, prayer, physical activity, or creative pursuits, caring for your mental health is equally important.

Staying ALERT to the needs of those around us and serving as supportive allies is key to fostering a culture of well-being in our communities.  You are an important part of making our environment well. 


Swarbrick, Margaret and Jennifer K. Brown. 2013. Mental Health First Aid USA. Lutherville, MD, Mental Health Association of Maryland.