Supporting When Individuals become Withdrawn

Published On: 13 April 2023

Reading time: 3 minutes

We all have times in our lives when we feel happy and positive, and others when we feel down, and it’s the same for the individuals in our care. There’s usually a specific reason we feel low or withdrawn and often these low patches naturally right themselves over time with some support.

However, some individuals may seem to feel constantly low, or are becoming increasingly so over time. They may:

  • Seem less interested in previous hobbies and interests
  • Become quieter
  • Spend more time alone
  • Don’t want to join in or avoid situations they used to enjoy
  • Become less communicative
  • Avoid seeking staff attention

Feelings drive behaviours and focusing on understanding the emotions behind the behaviours we see can help us understand and offer the best supports to meet individual needs.

Encourage Talking

We can talk to the individual about what we can see. We might say, “I’ve noticed… That makes me think you might feel… Could you tell me about it?” If they are reluctant to communicate, we can make guesses so they can agree or correct us. Individuals with communication needs can be supported with picture cards, signing, drawing, or role play. We must be open and listen when they communicate, letting them share their feelings and avoiding leaping in to solve their problems for them.

We have people we trust to talk to about how we’re feeling, and that isn’t just anyone. We go to the people we trust most and have a bond with. The individuals in our care are the same. We can’t force a relationship; it takes time and trust to develop one. This also means that an individual who is becoming withdrawn may not choose to talk to us about it and prefer to speak to another member of staff.

For many settings, this can be a challenge when a trusted person isn’t always available to talk with. An individual may be supported by many different members of staff, particularly in residential settings. Creating a consistent approach as an organisation and finding ways to share effective strategies between colleagues can help build a bank of professionals an individual can trust and feel able to communicate with.

Sharing information between colleagues

If we only consider behaviour in isolation, we can’t spot patterns or see changes over time. Effective record keeping is essential to ensure we share what one staff member notices with others to give a more holistic understanding of the individual, their feelings, and their needs.

While everyone naturally has days when they feel low, patterns of behaviour can give us insights into challenges the individual is experiencing, letting us adjust the supports we offer and spot problems we might otherwise miss.

When handovers and other communications about individuals are only verbal, we miss an opportunity to look back over time and see patterns emerging. This means striking a balance between recording pertinent information but not creating an onerous task for already busy staff teams. Simplifying systems, using codes, and creating efficient ways to capture information are necessary, as complex and time-consuming record keeping is impossible to maintain.

Seeking further support

While we expect natural fluctuations of mood over the course of a day and over time, if an individual appears to be becoming more withdrawn over time, it’s important to raise concerns following your setting’s procedures.

Behaviour to be concerned about includes:

  • Feeling misunderstood by everyone
  • Becoming isolated from friends and family
  • Thinking they are worthless and unimportant
  • Stopping doing the things they usually enjoy
  • Declining attendance and academic results for those in education settings
  • Talking about or starting to self harm
  • Drug and alcohol abuse

We are not working in isolation. The most effective teams work collaboratively to support individuals, rather than trying to ‘go it alone’. When an individual is becoming withdrawn, we need to work together, reach out for support from our team and external partners, and find the best ways to meet their needs together.