The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
As we all know, supporting friends and family through times of adversity is a basic facet of what it means to be present in these relationships. Indeed, the proverbial ‘shoulder to cry on’ is more relevant than ever in our post-Covid world, which has left many fearing for their loved ones’ well-being. According to the Young Minds website, a 2020 NHS report found that 1 in 6 young people now have a ‘probable’ mental health disorder. Although we try our best, many friends report feeling at a loss for words when confronted with these struggles. Although it is important to remember that a professional is often needed for effective treatment in the long term, there are definitely some small things you can do to open up the conversation and show your support.
I would like to make it clear that this is an opinion-based piece, and that I have no medical or psychological expertise. If you are seriously concerned about your own or somebody else’s mental health, speak to a doctor as soon as possible.
POSE THE QUESTION DIFFERENTLY
Instead of simply ‘how are you?’, it might sometimes be better to phrase the question slightly differently. Often, those not willing to open up about their feelings will give a similarly simplistic response to this everyday phrase. Try more targeted or stimulating questions such as ‘what’s going through your mind?’, ‘how have your moods been recently?’ or ‘what are your plans for the day?’. These questions will hopefully encourage your friend to elaborate on what it is that they are experiencing. Often, there are little things you can do to brighten their day, such as sending these thoughtful messages at times you know they often struggle.
do not pressurise
Forcing your friend to talk when they don’t feel comfortable will only damage the trust and harmony in the relationship. Whilst it is obviously vital to encourage healthy conversation, understand that it is not your place to extract or demand information about anybody else’s own mental health. Letting someone know your’re willing to listen when they are ready to talk is a great first step. Some people just take longer than others to open up!
confidentiality is key
This should be an obvious one. Violating the assumption of confidentiality is an absolute no-go. The only occasion at which it might be acceptable to speak to someone else is when you’re seriously concerned for your friend’s life or well-being, at which point use your own judgement and seek the necessary support. If you are feeling conflicted as to what advice to offer, perhaps chatting to other friends or family in more general terms would be helpful, without betraying anybody’s secrets. After all, mental health is something we should all be talking about!
good body language
This might sound simple, but making eye contact is a basic way of making your friend feel heard. Body language expert Karen Donaldson maintains that good eye contact helps show you want to be there and that you are interested in what is being said. In addition, whereas crossing your arms might come across as confrontational or even hostile, gentle nods and consistent eye contact will help to create a more relaxed and open environment.
KNOW YOUR OWN LIMITS
Ultimately, you are not a professional therapist. If you feel that the situation is becoming overwhelming or is affecting your own mental health, do not hesitate to refer your friend to a doctor, who will be able to provide them with the necessary treatment not in your capacity to offer. Otherwise, there is the risk of this relationship becoming emotionally manipulative or damaging to your own happiness, which could sabotage the bond.
We are fortunate enough to live in a society placing increasing focus on brain-health and positive mental practices. However, many of us still find starting these crucial conversations really challenging. Understandably, we must treat these issues with both caution and care, so taking the time to consider the best approach is worth thinking about. By the same token, try not to over-complicate things! All a friend can ever really ask for is someone to listen to their story, without judgement or interruption. Something as a straightforward as a quick text is an easy way of showing them you care.
SoME HELPFUL RESOURCES
The Mind website, a charity offering support to those struggling with their mental health.
The NHS website, which also provides guidelines on how to seek professional or medical support. Calling 111 is also the best way of getting immediate help in times of serious distress.
The Samaritans, a charity providing 24/7 support.