How to Support a Friend Battling Their Mental Health
This is a big week for me in terms of mental health.
I launched a devotional for those that struggle with their mental health (get it here).
I was a panelist on the show See Hear Love as we discussed our personal stories (watch it here).
And today in Canada it’s Bell Let’s Talk - a day devoted to ending the stigma associated with mental illness. #bellletstalk
So to say I’ve been talking a lot about mental health on my social media platforms would be an understatement.
Sorry, not sorry.
But of all the messages I’ve received lately, one in particular stood out. Because it’s not one I get often enough.
This beautiful soul was wondering how she could help support someone who is struggling with their mental health.
Yes! This is what we need more of as we move towards ending the stigma of mental illness and build community around people that are suffering.
In fact, research confirms that the support from family and friends is key to improving and living a life that thrives in the face of mental health struggles.
The truth is many of us that battle our mental health have been conditioned to keep it a secret in fear of judgment or rejection. We need to get better at sharing our truth with courage and from the lens of wanting to improve our coping skills.
When someone does get the courage to speak up - or if you notice something is off - here is how you can be encouraging and help be the support they need.
Inform yourself as much as possible about the illness your friend or loved one is facing. There is a lot of misinformation out there. Knowing the truth can help you be more empathetic.
Be understanding of their limitations if they need to cancel plans, leave early or take a few days to get back to your text.
Just be there. Offer to go for a walk to get them moving. Suggest a coffee date to get them out of the house. Accompany them to their appointments to ensure they get there.
Avoid comparisons. Just because your uncle’s best friend’s girlfriend's aunt was able to do something during their mental illness doesn’t mean your friend can. Mental illness impacts people differently.
Validate what they’re saying with phrases like “this must be hard for you” or “I can see that this is a real struggle”. People want and need to feel heard and understood, not have their pain minimized with comments like “calm down”, “don’t worry about it”, “stop thinking so negatively”.
Listen without judgement and void the urge to offer advice if you haven’t been asked for it. Opening up and feeling safe to share is a big deal. Honour the courage its taken to do that with reflective listening.
Be patient. Healing takes time and recovery is not a final destination.
Ask what they need. It’s hard to reach out in the midst of a struggle. Offering a helping hand may just be the lifeline your friend needs. Often the help is to just be there.
It can feel overwhelming trying to help someone struggling with their mental health. I get that. But ultimately, showing love is what it comes down to. Operating in grace and mercy with an outstretched hand.
It is true though, that not everyone battling mental health is in the position to receive help. That’s the frustration with these illnesses. It requires the person to want to help themselves thrive despite their challenges rather than be victim to their circumstances. And I say that with love.
Here’s what you DON’T need to do in supporting a loved one through their difficulties:
Be available 24/7
Feel guilty for their situation
Assume responsibility for their care
Put yourself in danger
Stay in a relationship that is damaging to you
We are meant to do life together. And whether you suffer from mental illness or not, we will all need the love, support and understanding of a friend at some point. Make a decision to BE that friend to someone today.
If you are in a mental health crisis, reach out to a crisis centre in your area or go to the local hospital.