How to Actually Support Your Friends with Mental Illness
Even though I openly discuss mental health on my blog and in my work, I still don't really talk about it.
When I have spoken about it, even with the most lovely and loving of friends, I see deep discomfort and a tendency to try and change the subject.
Wanna know why?
Because it's hard. For everyone.
Talking about your mental health sucks for everybody involved.
Though I appreciate those who are offering support for #letstalk today, being a listener and supporting someone with mental health issues is really difficult and is seldom as simple as just talking. We are empathetic and it's easy to get wrapped up in someone else's suffering -that's why people go to therapists. It's hard to listen. People literally train for years and years so they know what to do.
Think about it: You wouldn't ask your bestie to help you fix your broken leg or tell you what to do about an autoimmune disease, you'd go to a professional.
You are not qualified to treat your friends with mental illness.
BUT you know what you are good at? Driving them to the doctor. Offering to go to therapy with them and wait outside. Buying them ice cream after the appointments or picking up their medication. You're good at helping them clean their apartment or having a sleepover. You're good at making tea and hiding the booze. You're good at staying on the phone until they fall asleep. You're good at helping them do research about what kind of health professional they should see. You're good at hugs and crying and being patient as they come to terms with the fact that they need professional help. You're good and calling it out in a gentle and loving way. You're good at checking in. You're good at loving them and making them feel loved.
So instead I propose some alternatives to #letstalk .
Let's Listen. Let's reflect. Let's hold space. Let's arm ourselves with resources. Let's lead by example and take care of our own mental health. Let's learn the signs and symptoms of mental unrest and ask questions. Let's be there when our friend makes the first phone call to their doctor or therapist and if need be, dial for them. Let's take care of each other whether or not we have been diagnosed or identified as struggling. Let's be brave and offer to be there. Let's do kind things for each other without the prompting of a corporate campaign. Let's practice being present. Let's not be afraid of other people's tears or our own.
Let's not make it about us.
Let's show up even when they don't ask for help, because I know for a fact that by the time someone is ready to admit or ask for help, it's much, much too late and that person has been struggling for a long time. Let's just be better friends. Let's talk about our own mental health, and not just today, on Facebook. Let's stop talking about talking about mental health and actually talk about it.
Ps. Shout out to the line-up of people who support me and do all this kind of stuff for me, they are ah-may-zing. They get what helps. Without them, I'd be twice the mess.
For the record, I struggle with depression, general anxiety, social anxiety, dabble in agoraphobia and everyone's fave, chronic insomnia. Talking about it on online doesn't feel super good or like it's helping, but maybe someone might be like wow me too and feel better so I'll leave this here.
Want to read more of my ranting about mental health and how to be useful? Read more here.
If you or someone you know is struggling to have these conversations, please consider seeking professional help. People who support others who are struggling need help too.
You’re not alone, and no matter how ashamed or weird or fucked up this makes you feel, there are people trained to help you work through it and get on with your life. If you want to talk, I am a proud affiliate of TalkSpace, the most economical online therapy around. Talk to a therapist anytime, anywhere for as little as $32/week.