One in four people suffer from mental illness at one point during their lives. Like it or not, that means that every person is almost guaranteed to meet someone suffering from a mental illness, or be that person themselves. The recent increase in reports of mental illness could be due to a number of factors, whether it be the media and society constantly trying to fit people into their twisted, supposedly idealistic molds, or a person’s own circumstances, or even more possibilities that I’m not gonna dive into as that’s not the point of this article. The point is that anyone suffering from something as brutal and unforgiving as a mental illness deserves a good friend who is able to help through it, and that is why I will do my best to guide you to (hopefully) being that person.
First thing’s first: if someone is venting to you about how hard their depression makes it for them to get up in the morning, or how their anxiety leads to them constantly doubting themselves, or how their insecurities make them compare themselves to others and feeling inferior, YOU DO NOT COMPARE YOUR EXPERIENCES TO THEIRS. See that, it’s in all caps-it’s just that crucial! Your friend might already feel like they’re a burden when they share their experiences with you, and they will feel even worse if they feel that they’re overreacting. They might even feel belittled. A good friend wouldn’t do that to their buddy, would they? So please, just be careful.
Validate what they’re saying. Make sure that they feel heard, and that they know they’re not burdening you. Don’t be judgmental, or try to fix them-they do that themselves, with the support of their friends. Tell them you love them, tell them you believe in them, maybe squeeze in what you love about them. You don’t have to understand what they’re going through, but being there to offer comfort in the form of a hug, a laugh, or even a smile could be an invaluable help.
Hey, so you know how earlier, I asked you to (pretty please with cherries on top) be careful? I feel I should clarify that this doesn’t mean ‘walk on eggshells around your pal.’ Treat them the same way you did before they became ill. They’re still your friend, and you’re still theirs, even if they’re having a hard time. Just having a laugh with them can make them forget all about their struggles.
While it is important to ensure that your friend knows they have a safe space, it is also important to change the subject when that’s needed- to keep the conversation from getting too dark,or to provide a potentially welcome distraction. Talk about something you’re both interested in, or go for a walk as a break, watch your favorite movie together, etc. Pull them out of their cave, keep ‘em moving, and on their toes, just to keep them from spiraling too far down the rabbit hole.
Help de-stigmatize the very topic of mental illness. Talk about it when given the proper opportunity-but also be mindful of your language choices, both in private and in public. Educate yourself; a little knowledge can go a long way when offering support.
If you think that they might be involved in self-harm, or having suicidal thoughts, then part of being a good friend could be talking to an (understanding, reasonable) adult about it. Tell your friend why you think that would be a good idea so they wouldn’t feel betrayed, but ultimately, an adult could probably help. Sometimes the best thing you can do is step back, if only for a qualified professional to aid your friend better than you can.
It’s also important to know that being a good friend doesn’t necessarily mean being available 24/7, or feeling guilty if you feel that you are doing well, or letting your own anxiety or depression build up to help said friend. What it does mean is being there when you’re needed, and reminding them that the bad parts will pass, and that your friendship will survive it.
The world is a dreadful place, and is often made that way by humans. We’re a rotten species prone to sin and selfishness, but we do often have our moments, and we can offer so much to the world.
So to anyone who needs this, this may not mean a lot: but I believe in you, and I believe that you are strong enough to overcome this. You can do it 🙂