At a recent therapy session I was asked, “Who do you have in your corner? Who can you count on to always support you?” I was overwhelmed by this question. There’s a lot of names that come to my mind: family, friends, and coworkers. Knowing that having a dedicated support system is something that some in my shoes do not, I was able to easily name people who I know will always be there. The people in my life do quite a bit to be allies in my mental health journey. There are a couple of ways my friends have supported me and my mental illness that I aim to do with all my relationships!
Ways to Support Your Friends with Mental Illness
Everyone’s mental illness and mental health needs are different. First off, this is not a one size fits all. I’m also NOT a mental health professional, doctor, or therapist. There’s nothing about this blog that is medical advice – only sharing what has been a huge benefit in my own life!
Number 1: Communicate!
The darkest part of my mental health journey was accompanied with pushing away those I loved most. I felt like a burden on their happiness because I wasn’t happy. One thing that really benefitted me was my best friends always communicating with me, even when it was really hard. I credit my friend, Taylor, for saving my life because when I stopped communicating she continued asking questions, encouraging me, and reaching out to my parents when things got scary.
It can be really hard to verbalize all the things going on in your mind when you’re struggling. However, knowing that you have someone who won’t hate or judge can be an actual lifesaver.
Number 2: Normalize Conversations about Mental Health!
Half of American adults with major depressive disorder will go without treatment this year. We have a serious lack of mental health resources in this country. Those that we do have tend to be pricey and not realistic for the average American. People also avoid getting treatment because of the stigmas that surround all mental illnesses. Emotional and mental health are just as important as physical health. No one is embarrassed to talk about their broken arm; we have to approach mental illness in the same way!
If one of your friends is having a hard time coping with a diagnosis or difficult mental health period, normalize the convo! Being candid about your own mentality (even if you don’t suffer from mental illness) can open the floor for conversation. Also, when people know that their support system does occasional “mental health checks” they are much more likely to reach out in a time of emergency or serious need!
Number 3: Be Patient!
This blog, or millions of blogs, will not be enough to truly say how lucky I am with my support system. One thing I can never repay is the amount of patience that those around me have given in my rough times. Sometimes, those struggling can be the hardest to love. We’re angry, sad, happy, excited, depressed, numb, and every emotion in between. It’s hard to keep up with it all.
Friends might flake, drop the ball, and be ugly towards you because of how they feel about themselves. I can confidently say it’s nothing to do with you. One of the hardest things you’ll ever do is continuing to invite, communicate, and encourage someone who is not reciprocating or acknowledging your time. It does, however, make a huge difference to those suffering so DON’T feel like it’s for nothing!
Number 4: Know Your Limits!
All of number 3 being said, you need to know your limits when it comes to other’s mental health and your own. Unless you’re a parent or guardian of a child, you’re never responsible for another human’s well-being. You, my friend, always need to make sure you’re healthy first!
In the past, I’ve had a serious problem with trying to take a lot of others’ mental health problems on my plate in order to avoid my own issues. If being an advocate for another’s mental health is causing you to go to a bad place, PLEASE STOP! You don’t do anyone any good when you’re also hurting.
Number 5: REPORT WHEN NECESSARY!
Again, I’m absolutely not a professional here… but when I say sometimes you need to report, I’ve never been more serious. Having friends who aide in your mental health journey can be a huge advantage, but it’s NOT a fix all. Everyone’s struggle is different. Personally, I’ve needed professional help, medicine, and my loved ones’ support to get through some of the hardest times in my depression and anxiety.
It took my friend “reporting” to really confirm to my parents that I needed professional help. Don’t be afraid to let someone know what’s going on in case of an emergency – it might cause tension at first, but it could save a life!
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