How You Can Be A Better Friend To Someone With An MHI
Got a pal who's struggling with their mental health? Find out what you can do to be a better friend, over at MTV.co.uk.
When you’re going through a tough time, your close friends are more important than ever. They're probably your first port of call as a support system who’ll listen to everything you need to talk about, as well as share the tears, anxieties and feelings right along side you.
Anyone who suffers with mental illness will know that friendships can be a complete lifeline sometimes – but what if it’s your best pal who’s struggling, and you’re the one who needs to BE the support this time?
If you want to be a valuable, genuine friend to someone who’s dealing with their own MHI, here’s a few simple ways that you can do your best to help.
1. Take some time to do a little bit of research
If you’re serious about being there for a friend, it makes sense that you need to have a vague knowledge about what they’re living with every single day.
It’s easy to feel out of your depth when it comes to understanding mental health, but set aside a small amount of research time.
It’s not like you need to be an expert or a professional therapist on the subject, but reading through some honest firsthand experiences from other people who live with the illness will help to shed some light on how best to approach things.
Looking for a good place to start? Turn to a trusted mental health service like Mind, who’ll break it down in a genius, step by step way that even the most clueless can get to grips with.
2. Break the ice and open the subject of conversation with them
Approaching a chat about mental health for the first time can literally seem like the most difficult, awkward thing in the world – even if it’s someone that you’ve known for ages.
In fact, that can almost make it MORE awkward, because it’s probably gone as an unspoken thing for a while.
If you feel like you don’t really know what to say, it’s a good idea to have a think about some questions that you want to ask before you dive right in.
It definitely shouldn’t be an interrogation or an accusation, but instead present them with an open opportunity to talk to you about it. They might have been waiting for the right moment to pop up.
‘How are you feeling today?’, ‘How long have you been feeling like this?’, ‘Did anything cause it?’ are all gentle but a step in the right direction. People respond differently to different types of support, so the simple question 'How can I be helpful?' could be the best one.
3. Don't let it end there.
Keeping in touch with a friend who's having a tough time is ultimately the most important thing, as you need to keep the conversation going rather than letting it drop off the radar and become awkward to talk about again.
If it’s depression that your friend is living with, the chances are they feel like a complete burden, and the way that society treats mental health issues often leaves sufferers feeling like no one wants to hear about it.
This all means that they might be pretty rubbish at initiating contact with you, but don’t give up on them. Instead, make a concscious effort to check in with them and ask how they’re doing – even if they’ve ignored the last few messages (it’s nothing personal).
But, having said that…
4. Don’t overdo it.
As mentioned above, bad periods of mental health related issues can leave a sufferer feeling like a total drag to everyone around them, meaning that they might distance themselves from you.
While it’s important to keep in touch, they may also need some alone time and that needs to be respected, too. Stifling someone is never a good thing.
Insisting on spending every second of the day with them, or constantly asking how they’re feeling will only push them away to hide by themselves even more. Try your hardest not to take it personally if they insist that they don’t want to see you, and don't treat them too differently to how you treated them before this all kicked off.
5. Get them out and about.
Contrary to what your mum says, a bit of fresh air definitely doesn’t cure everything, but what it can do is bring some light, some energy and sometimes a new (albeit temporary) perspective to a situation.
If they’re spending a lot of time alone in doors, getting out and about can burst the isolated bubble slightly.
Somewhere super busy is probably not the best idea - and don’t even think about a boozy night club scenario - but non-threatening, open spaces like parks are a winner.
6. Be careful if you’re messaging.
The easiest way to check in with a pal is obviously a text or a whatsapp message, but a lot of mental health issues are particularly bad for kickstarting paranoia and taking things personally.
Remember that the tone of a text can always be taken in the wrong way, and could easily be read as sounding more direct, abrupt or pissed off than you ever intended it to be.
Try to think carefully about any advice, guidance or support that you send, and if things take a confrontational turn, or you suspect that you’ve come across too harsh, make sure to clear things up. Phonecalls are always a good choice.
7. Don't expect miracles.
Hate to break it to you, but you’re not going to singlehandedly fix someone else’s mental health problems - it just doesn't work like that.
While just as important, you’re not an actual therapist, and you’re not going to be able to present solutions to deep rooted MHI all by yourself.
Your role as the BFF is to support, to listen, to be patient and to just be there, while they figure out how to express what they’re feeling and whether they're ready to take the next step in their recovery.
8. And don't try and sell miracles either.
It might make you feel like the positivity fairy, sprinkling joy and happiness wherever you go, but firing over motivational Instagram quotes and vague statements like ‘everything is going to be alright’ are almost never the way to go.
While they might lift the mood for a minute or two, they're actually more likely to lead to more self doubt when things don't instantly seem any better.
Rather than attempting to reassure that it’ll all feel better tomorrow (which, let’s be real, it probably won’t), you could instead reassure them that what they’re feeling is entirely legitimate, okay and real.
9. Help to build a routine again.
When MHI takes over, any vague concept of a normal daily routine probably goes straight out the window thanks to the crushing feeling of helplessness that comes alongside it.
When you're at rock bottom, things like waking up early or even having a shower will easily drop off the radar.
But for a lot of people, creating some kind of structure to each day can be a huge help - even if it's something as simple as writing an easy to do list each morning and following it through.
By making plans with your friend, you're easily helping them to add in some form of structure to their day or week, meaning that there's not so much alone down time to consciously feel the effects of their mental health. And if they're open to the idea, try and help them slowly build up to some kind of routine again.
10. Encourage them to seek some proper help.
Remember that it's not all on you to make this go away, and although society generally might try and portray otherwise, depression and other types of mental health illness ARE serious.
If they're willing to listen, remind them that professional help could be the answer and isn't something to be dismissed.
Start with a straightforward trip to their GP – accompany them if it makes them feel more comfortable (they can request you join them in the doctor's room if necessary), and then take it from there.
Mind offers a free guide to help prepare for the appointment (which can seem daunting to anyone), full of advice on talking to your GP nurse for the first time - you could go through this guide together.
As much as you might be desperate to pull them out of all of this, therapy is absolutely not in the job description of friendship. No matter how much you care for someone, it's often better to leave the very heavy stuff to the experts.
11. Look after yourself, too.
If you're feeling drained, exhausted and worried having taken on someone else's problems, there's no way you'll be able to continue giving support, or even continue the friendship that you guys have had for so long.
If it starts to become a toxic responsibility for you, absolutely never feel bad about taking a step back from the situation.
This is particularly important if you have your own mental health problems too; try and stay concious of the fact that this could be triggering for your own peace of mind.
While you want to be there for your friend, it's important to not neglect your own wellbeing in the process. Try not to let guilt manifest itself if you feel as though you're not making any difference, or if you're busy when they call on you.
There's only so much you can do as one person. You can support them every step of the way with their mental health journey, but your friend has to overcome a lot of it themselves.
Words by Lucy Wood
Now, how about a test to see how well people know their way around a uterus? Dun dun dunnnn.