How to Help Your Friend Through Their Mental Health Struggles?
Updated: May 16, 2019
The term mental health features in the news and on social media sites frequently. Book stores are full of self-help books and the internet is crowded with various courses and apps which aim to help us with our mental well-being. Yet, there were 6,213 suicides in the UK and Republic of Ireland in 2017 and men remain three times more likely to take their own lives than women.
On the other end of the spectrum, 74% of people have at some point felt so stressed that they are so overwhelmed that they find that they are unable to cope. This can adversely affect their work, social and family life and their physical health. With all the pressures of our daily lives, peer groups and the influence of social media, how can we do our bit to help a friend in need?
It seems that there is still this misconception as to what mental health issues mean. People might think that someone with mental health issues is a person with ‘psychotic’ symptoms only. But, what we often fail to appreciate is that frequently talked about symptoms such as anxiety and depression are also mental health issues.
Unfortunately, these issues are so common that 1 in 6 people in the past week experienced one or both of these them. Therefore, whilst ignorance could be a ‘bliss’ at times, our mental health can affect any of us at any time. Hence, awareness and understanding of these symptoms is an important step in recognising your friend in need.
Acknowledge One’s Differences
We are all unique, and that’s a good thing. However, often we forget to appreciate that not everyone thinks and feels the same way that we do. It seems so obvious, but you’d be surprised how often we make this thinking error. Something that seems to make so little impact to us, may be such a huge thing for your friend. Telling someone who is down to simply ‘cheer up’ could be appropriate in some situations, however, for a friend who is dealing with mental health issues, ‘cheering up’ could be something they so desperately want, but not able to. It is important therefore that we are mindful of the way we communicate with each other and remember that the fact that a situation that is minor to you, does not necessarily mean that your friend sees it the same way.
Mental health issues affect thousands of people every day yet there is still strong stigma attached to it which doesn’t only come from society but from our friends and families alike. When helping your friend, understanding that they might be affected by stigma, is important. Also, since prevention is better than cure, it is important to talk about any issues they may be anxious or apprehensive about and reassure your friend that they have help available should they ever need it, even if in this particular moment their life is going well.
Encouraging open discussion about mental health issues also amongst our social groups in general could assist in raising awareness, make people more understanding and more comfortable in discussing such issues. This could alleviate the issues around stigma.
Mental health issues can be silent and invisible to many. This is one of the reasons some people go through it alone and, in worst cases, end up committing suicide, leaving their loved ones shocked that they didn’t even know they were suffering.
It is important therefore that we acknowledge when something is wrong. With social media and technology being so prevalent these days, it is necessary to lift our heads up from scrolling through social media and taking notice as to what is going on with our friends. Whilst you know your friend the best, there are some common symptoms what we may want to be aware of. Such symptoms could manifest themselves in the form of losing interest in activities they would normally enjoy, being unusually quiet, tearful, irritable, being tense or “not quite there” or changes in their physical appearance.
Accept Your Limitations
As much as you want to help your friends, it is important to understand that there are times when peer support and just talking is not enough. Knowing when your friend needs more than just a chat, and where to get support, is crucial in making sure that your friend gets the most appropriate help. For some people asking for help and attending therapy can be scary, but knowing where to go and knowing they have a strong support network could get them halfway through this difficult period.
Going through mental health issues can be a very difficult and scary experience. It affects millions of us across the world and we cannot stay ignorant to it because, if we do, it will only get worse. By becoming aware of what it is, being vigilant about the symptoms and knowing where to get the right help, you could not only help with your own life, but could save the life of your loved ones.
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