Wednesday 18 February 2015

Help! My friend is suffering with their mental health

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 - Hannah V

With University Mental Health Day coming up on Wednesday 18th February, Student Minds are trying to encourage everyone to open up to their friends about their mental health difficulties, and for their friends to support them in any way they can.

Mental health problems can be such a lonely place. Depression can cause people to withdraw from their normal social circles; anxiety can prevent others from leaving their rooms; and schizophrenia can make people paranoid about the relationships in their life. Although it can seem impossible when you are suffering with your mental health, sometimes the best thing you can do is open up to a close friend and let them support you.

It can be really heartbreaking to hear how much a friend is suffering. To hear them say that they have no enjoyment in life, or that they don’t want to be here anymore, can be a really difficult concept to deal with. People with mental health problems will need support from their friends and family, although they may not realise it themselves. These are my tips for supporting a loved one that is suffering with their mental health:

  • Be there for them. Be there for the person as much as possible and make time to ask them how they are doing. Let them know that they can contact you whenever they need to chat or vent their feelings. You can make someone feel so much better if they just know that someone is there for them whenever they need that extra help.

  • Show that you care. Sometimes just telling someone that is suffering with their mental health that you care doesn’t work due to all of their negative thoughts – you have to show them. Send them a random text telling them how much they mean to you, or even just asking them how they are. Arrange lots of things to do with them and give them something to look forward to. Just let them know that someone cares enough to spend time with them.

  • Never judge them. Remember that people with mental health difficulties aren’t always in a rational mind set, and they may say things that you don’t agree with. Try to be as non-judgemental as possible and listen to their worries, never telling them that they are being silly or should cheer up.

  • Reassurance. People suffering with their mental health often need a lot of reassurance. You may need to continuously let them know that you care, and that you will never leave them. They may need to know that they will never be on their own. Don’t get frustrated when you have to repeat yourself, as mental health difficulties can stop the sufferer believing what others are saying – but when it is repeated over and over it makes it less difficult to believe.

  • Patience. Mental health difficulties can take a long time to overcome, and there may be a few setbacks along the way. This can become really frustrating for the person and everyone around them, but always keep hope that they will get better, encouraging them throughout.

  • Know what not to say. Although you may feel like it, never say “you shouldn’t be feeling like this because you have everything going for you and you’re beautiful/intelligent/amazing/etc” – this will probably just make the sufferer feel guilty. Never tell them to “pull themselves together” or “cheer up” as this won’t help either. Don’t say that you know how they feel, as you most likely don’t – mental health is individual for everyone. Instead listen to what they are saying and respond with empathy; let them know that you are there for them, and maybe create a plan with them of how to make them feel better in the future.

  • Don’t blame yourself. This is probably one of the most important points. Never blame yourself for their suffering as it isn’t your fault. They may hurt you with what they say but don’t analyse their words much, as they don’t mean to upset you.

It can be really hard to have a friend that is suffering with their mental health. Sometimes they will just need a hug, other times they will need to have some alone time – you have to be flexible and adapt to their needs at a particular point. If you are worried about a friend and think they may be experiencing a mental health difficulty, there is lots of support out there: your university’s pastoral care is a good first point-of-call, or the charities Mind and Rethink have people you can contact at any time.

As Stephen Fry rightfully said about depression, which applies to all kinds of mental health difficulties, “If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather. Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.”

At 4:30, Student Minds is hosting a #studentchats on opening up to a friend with mental health difficulties for University Mental Health Day. If you'd like to know more about how you can support a friend, check out our Look After Your Mate guide, which is full of useful tips and suggestions.

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