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How can I help and offer my support to a friend who is struggling with mental health issues?
As there exists a wide array of mental health issues, it’s important to avoid making assumptions about why your friend is going through a hard time or to jump in with your own diagnosis and solutions. Most of the time, help is rendered in subtle ways. Here are some pointers to get you started:
#1. Make an effort to check on them
Set time aside to show your friend some care and concern. You may drop them a text or even give them a call every once in a while. Whether it’s over the telephone or a video call, having verbal communication is one way of retaining that personal touch and may make for a nice surprise.
#2. Make yourself available
Be there to provide that listening ear. Even if they may not share much about their struggles, your presence is likely to make your friend feel less alone; knowing that someone is ready to listen can be a source of comfort.
#3. Respect their boundaries
Let your friend lead the conversation at their own pace. Avoid probing or putting pressure on them to share as much information as possible, they will do so when they are ready. Sometimes, your friend may be at a loss for words because it’s hard to verbalize what a mental health episode or condition feels like.
#4. Be trustworthy
Whatever your friend tells you is said in confidence; it is not your story or secret to share. It takes trust and courage for them to open up to you and it is basic respect to honor their privacy.
#5. Be patient
Your friend may go off the grid and perhaps, even appear to shirk some responsibilities. Don’t demand answers from them. Instead, check in on them periodically. This way, you’ll give them time and space to heal. Trust that they’ll get back to you in due time.
#6. Try your best to be understanding
Yes, it may be tiring to accommodate recurrent, unexplained and unprecedented behavior. But remember, your friend may be going through much more than you’re privy to. Exercise empathy and compassion and try to put yourself in their shoes, “How would I feel if I was caught in a similar situation?” While it may be hypothetical and may not lead you towards formulating the most appropriate response, it will make you think twice before reacting.
#7. Refrain from telling them what to do
The conversations you have with your friend should prioritize the examination and expression of their emotions; you are not expected to devise solutions to their problems. Some things are beyond your control and it is not your fault that you don’t have all the answers.
#8. Know when to encourage your friend to seek professional help
Know your limits and understand that it may not be in your best interests to take on the full weight of your friend’s problems. If you recognize that you no longer have the emotional bandwidth or expertise to deal with your friend’s problems, encourage them to seek professional help.
Seeking assistance from a medical professional can be daunting. You can try to make getting to the first appointment as easy as possible: offer to help your friend find affordable healthcare or be next to your friend as they make the appointment.
In order to support a friend who is struggling with mental health issues, you have to first recognize your limitations and seek clarity thereafter. Remember, you may not understand what they’re going through most of the time and that’s perfectly acceptable. After all, we’re all learning new things every day.
If you’re still at a loss, you’re just a quick Google search from other guides and resources available. Or you can even consider asking your friend, “how can I be there for you?” They may be more open to share than you think and what better way to find out what kind of support your friend will appreciate?
Healing takes time. And sometimes, just being there to walk alongside the person in need as they recover is enough. Thank you for caring enough to read this; thank you for being a friend.
Feature image by Sherryl Cheong