How To Be a Good Friend to Someone who Struggles With Mental Illness

Mental illness is a very personal thing, and sharing that with someone is a huge sign of trust and mutual respect. If your friend has chosen to confide in you about their mental health, chances are you’re already doing something right. However, mental health issues are complicated and deep. They can be tricky to navigate for even the closest and most supportive of friends. I have been on both sides of the situation countless times and I still struggle with it to this day! I have had friends who were lights in the darkness for me and supported me in all the right ways, and I have had friends who have told me to “just get over it” and ignored me when I reached out for help. These are two very different ends of the spectrum though, and I find that most people fall in the middle, which is a state of confusion. What is X disorder? What should I do when they feel or act this way? How can I help? It can be especially difficult because everyone is different and needs different things. While there is no perfect formula for being a good support for someone struggling with mental illness, there are some things that I have found are applicable no matter what the situation, so I decided to compose a list.

 

Do Your Homework

So your friend tells you that they are struggling with their mental health. What’s the first thing you should do? Learn everything you can about it. Ask them questions. Find out what struggling looks like for them so that you can recognize it when it happens. If they have a specific disorder, like PTSD or an eating disorder, ask them about how it works. This may seem daunting, and a lot of people are scared of coming off as invasive and insensitive, but, in my experience, most people are thankful to be given the chance to explain their diagnosis and dispel any common misconceptions. Asking thoughtful questions is also a way to show that you care, and people will pick up on that.

 

Ask Them What They Need

If you notice that your friend is struggling, don’t just assume things. Ask them what they need, and find out what you can do to help. Maybe they need some space. Maybe they need a glass of water and a deep breath. Maybe they simply need a distraction. Whatever it is, respect their wishes and do what you can to help them out!

 

Listen

This ties back to both of my previous points, but sometimes it works all on its own. Sometimes people just need someone to listen to them. Let them vent or yell or cry. You don’t even have to say anything. Just being there and actively listening to your friend speaks volumes on its own.

 

Don’t Judge

No matter how hard you try to understand, sometimes mental illness just doesn’t make sense. Your friend may do or say or feel things that you just don’t get. Mental illness is very rarely “logical” to the outside observer. The best thing that you can do in those situations is not judge them. Your friend is not their mental illness. Chances are, they know that what they are doing isn’t rational, and they definitely don’t need you to remind them. Accept the fact that this is something that they really can’t help. It is an illness just like any other physical illness. You wouldn’t judge someone for having diabetes, so why would you judge someone for being bulimic?

 

Take Care of Yourself

Supporting someone with mental illness can be stressful, especially if they are in a particularly bad place or if you are struggling with your own issues. Make sure to take time for yourself and check in to make sure that you aren’t helping someone with their mental health at the expense of your own. Self-care is key!!

 

I hope some of these suggestions were helpful! If all else fails, just remember to keep an open mind and be kind. You can’t go wrong with that!

 

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