This post has been sitting in my drafts for ages and brewing in my mind for even longer. It’s been one of the hardest posts to write, it’s such a heavy subject and I really want to do it justice. It’s so important and I want to start a conversation about it.
Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. Neither is talking about it.
Full disclosure – I have not been clinically diagnosed with anxiety or depression. I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa a couple years ago. I’m also not a doctor, counsellor, or have any certifications at all. I am speaking from experience as someone who struggles with mental health issues and has people in my life who have as well.
As someone who deals with my own mental health issues and has loved ones who also struggling with mental illness – I know it’s hard. It’s hard to know how to help, react, love, and support those who are struggling with mental illness. It’s not something that’s talked about enough, but it’s so important. So I wanted to share some tips and tricks that friends have used to support me and that I’ve learned while trying to support my friends. I also reached out to a few people and asked on social media for advice to try to share a well rounded list of tips and advice. Thank you to everyone who replied to my Instagram story – the response was incredible and so helpful.
Another disclaimer: this is mostly focused on supporting those with depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. I know there are many more mental illnesses that this doesn’t touch on, but they are not issues I feel comfortable speaking out on as I haven’t had experience.
Educate yourself on the mental illness and what’s going on with your friend. It can help you gain perspective of what’s going on in your friend’s head and a bit of what they may need or what to avoid.
Also, if possible, just asking your friend is a good idea, especially about what they need, if they have triggers and how you can avoid those, how to help during a panic attack, etc. Otherwise, still just doing some research online can be incredibly helpful.
Having some insight can help you come from more of a place of understanding and good intentions.
My best friend, Ayleen shared:
“Saying things in a positive sense can go along way. Personally, in my depression I am very sensitive to criticism depending on HOW its given to me. Since I’m already feeling down it spirals a feeling of guilt and negativity to be criticized in a negative way.
A positive attitude shows a better way of living by example, someone who is depressed (in my case I have clinical depression have been diagnosed since I was a child and social anxiety disorder diagnosed around 18). I know it can really hard for people to be around me – I can be negative, insecure, moody, lazy, unreliable. I live a life where I constantly don’t feel safe or loved so in turn that lashes out on the people I love and so on and so forth. Basically it’s a vicious cycle that can only be cured with positive action and patience. The same rules apply with anything in life.
Any mental illness is like a spiral going downward. Mental illness can spiral into losing the ability to function in a healthy way. For example cleaning, cooking, sleeping proper times, working, physical maintenance, etc it spirals because the mind drifts from those things being important. So instead of getting upset, it’s effective to spend little bits of time with talking and just being a positive example. Even just enjoying company it doesn’t have to be so hard.”
A Comforting Shoulder
It’s just always nice to know we have someone. Whether your friend wants to talk or not – knowing that there’s someone there means so much. Show support and be a source of comfort when it’s needed. Even just occasionally sending little texts or silly memes goes a long way.
When your friend does want to talk about messy things – just listen, sympathize, and validate their feelings. While your advice might be well intentioned, it’s not always the most helpful and can often feel like you’re minimizing what’s actually going on. They don’t need you to fix their problems, they just want to know that they’re heard and validated.
Avoid things like “Everyone feels like this sometimes!”, “oh yeah, it’s just the weather – it’ll pass!”, “Just don’t focus on that!”
I know personally, I often know when my thoughts are purely anxiety and that just makes it more frustrating, but no easier to deal with. So just listen to your friend. Sometimes its best to just say “I’m so sorry you’re feeling like this. That really sucks. Let me know if you need anything.”
Or even nothing at all. If a friend is having a panic attack, trying to talk them down might only make it worse, so it’s best to respect that and possibly find other ways that can help them feel calm and safe.
Sometimes it’s also just easier to reach people through songs, funny pictures, or cute videos.
Mental illness works in mysterious ways and often can result in unreliability. So be flexible and please don’t take it personally! I sometimes make plans that I’m excited for, but as it approaches anxiety arises and it just becomes too overwhelming causing me to cancel. Or I just wake up that day and am feeling anxious, exhausted, or intimidated by the idea of even getting dressed. I feel bad about it, but I hope you can understand. It’s not you, it’s anxiety.
Also, don’t take it personally if your friend isn’t replying to text messages. They’re not always going to be responsive, even if they appreciate the texts and your kindness. With depression and anxiety, any little thing can seem like a big task and this can include texting. Sometimes they also just might need a little space.
Help Us With Errands
Sometimes finding motivation to even simply function as a human is hard, so if you’re able to help with grocery shopping, cleaning up, or accompanying your friend to appointments – that helpful hand means a lot.
Random Acts of Kindness
Cute cat videos, little “I love you” texts, playlists of happy songs, baked goods – any little acts of kindness to show you care and are there go such a long way.
Encourage Us to Get Out
Sometimes leaving the house is hard, but getting out and about is often so essential. Sometimes all that’s needed is a little nudge or just a reason to get out. Encourage your friend to come for a walk, to a movie, or to a social event. It might be easier for them to get out of the house if they’re with some.
While leaving the house sometimes might sound like the worst thing, a little fresh air does wonders. Getting outside is always good for the soul.
Help Us Get Out of Social Situations
Following the above point, if your friend is getting anxious or just want out – help them with an escape route from social situations. Personally, this is something I struggle with, I often get caught way longer in a situation than I feel comfortable and I just get more and more anxious. So sometimes I need a someone to help me get out by saying we have to leave or helping us sneak away.
Don’t Treat Your Friend Like an Alien
Your friend is so much more than their mental illness. While it’s important to be respectful and aware of their struggles with mental illness and how it’s affecting them, don’t let it be their defining quality.
I still want to hear about what’s going on with your life or a dumb story from your day. Talking about random pointless things like tv shows or what celebrity made an ass of themselves is still enjoyable, watching movies, listening to jokes, wandering around, or sitting at a park are all still nice things to do. It’s always good to get out of your own head for a while.
“Do things with them! Art therapy, walks, cook food, watch movies, go shopping for clothes. Make them feel like they can function in society even if they’re going through tough waters.” – Michael
Please Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself
Don’t forget to put yourself first. It can be stressful and sometimes overwhelming. Your mental health is also important! So please remember to take time for yourself to recharge and restore – do things you love and practice some self-love and care.
Let’s chat – if you have anymore tips or advice, please leave them down below!
If you’re struggling with mental health, please reach out to someone – a friend, family member, teacher, therapist. If you need to talk to someone, I’m also always here for you. www.7cups.com is an amazing online chat support resource.