The turn of the year is a natural time for people to set goals and look for ways to improve their lives. Are you looking for something to do that could make a big impact on others? Consider making a point to reach out to others in 2016.

Connecting with people can help your sense of well-being and may also really help someone. Your friends, family members, neighbors and co-workers may be suffering emotionally and you may not know it. People in general are comfortable talking to others about their physical health problems, for which they almost always seek professional help. However, for many people who are experiencing emotional distress, they are reluctant to talk with others.

Some of the symptoms of a person struggling with emotional issues include:

Withdrawal:  A person who used to be socially engaged has pulled away from family and friends and stopped participating in activities he or she used to enjoy.

Personality Change: This could be a sudden or gradual change.

Agitation: Many times depression and other illness cause people to lose their temper easily or seem irritable.

Poor Self Care: Someone may let his or her personal hygiene deteriorate or start abusing alcohol or other drugs or engage in other self-destructive behavior.

Hopelessness: A person feels that everything is wrong and nothing will ever get better.

When you recognize that someone in your life is suffering, you may wonder what to do. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask someone if they are feeling down.  A good conversation starter can be “It seems as though you are a bit down lately, is everything ok?” or “I’ve noticed some differences in you lately, and wondered how you are doing.”

Don’t be intimidated. You don’t have to “fix” their problems.

“As a friend, you are there to listen and offer support. Sometimes just taking the time to listen and showing compassion can really give a person the lift they needed that day,” said Joel Mowrey, PhD, executive director of the Mental Health & Recovery Board of Portage County. “Give the person a phone call to see how they are feeling. Invite them for coffee or take a walk. You also may need to reach out to the person’s family and let them know that you’ve noticed their loved one is in pain.”

Encourage your children to get in on the act of reaching out to others too. Remind them to be nice to one another. If they notice a fellow classmate is being left out, offer to sit with him/her at lunch, ask him/her to join in their game on the playground, or even just smile and say hello in the hallway.

You may find a person has been suffering from depression for a few weeks and may need professional help. Realize that a person suffering from depression may not have the energy to put forth the effort to find help. Depression saps a person’s energy and motivation, so finding help may seem like an overwhelming task. Provide them the phone numbers for our local social service agencies. For children, contact Children’s Advantage at 330-296-552 or Coleman Professional Services at 330-673-1347. For adults contact Coleman Professional Services at 330-673-1347 or Family & Community Services at 330-297-7027.

The person may also be feeling hopelessness that makes them feel there is no point to seeking help as nothing will get better. It is important to never ignore comments about suicide. In fact, it is fine to ask someone if they are feeling suicidal.  It is a myth the asking someone about suicide will make them suicidal. If they express suicidal thoughts, there are two 24 hour local help lines in Portage County, 330-678-4357 for Townhall II and 330-296-3555 for Coleman Access. Access can also see people in person and can arrange for someone to be hospitalized if necessary.

Reaching out to others not only is an excellent way to help someone in emotional distress but may actually help keep someone healthy and alive.