Supporting a Friend with Mental Illness

As a young woman with mental illness, I know how difficult being my friend can be.

   

For days and days on end I won’t reply to my phone. No texts, DMs, or snaps will be returned and I’ll seem almost entirely MIA. Friends will send text after text, spiraling just like me trying to get in touch. It starts with “hey how’ve you been?” and inevitably ends with “are you ok?? you’re kinda worrying me :/”. No one really knows how I am or what I’m up to.

 

Next week, however, I’m a socialite. I constantly text, DM, and snap any sort of update on my life. I make plans for almost everyday. I post aesthetic pics on my Instagram, my Snapchat story is full of mirror selfies at frat parties, and people know what I’m up to and how I am.

 

The hot and cold is rough to deal with; trust me, I’m well aware.

 

Most people have friends that confuse them somehow. Whether it’s just sending passive aggressive texts or going off the grid for a week, I know both sides of the situation. But as the friend who’s always accused of being wishy-washy or crazy or hard to deal with, I’d like to softly tell people how to get it together and treat their friends with kindness and most importantly: respect.

 

24/7 texts about how much someone loves you is nice in theory. Inviting someone out more often because they never reply and you know they need support seems like the right thing to do. I’m here to tell you that sometimes space is a good thing. Sometimes people need a breather, even if they are your best friend.

 

 #1: Don’t treat me like a child.

I know you’re trying to help. I know you love me. But coddling me and constantly asking what’s wrong in a baby voice and trying to hug me when I obviously don’t want one isn’t helpful. Instead support me: respect me. Respect my wishes when I say I just need a bit.

 

Respect me and read obvious signals when I don’t want to be touched. Just because we’re friends doesn’t mean I have to play the perfect, archetypal best friend all day everyday. I know you miss me. I miss me too. But I’m not just on this earth to be your friend, and when I get coddled and forced into “being better” that’s exactly how it feels. I deserve respect whether I’m being my usual, affectionate, bubbly self or if I’m being a quiet, reserved, moody me.

 

 #2: Be there when I DO need you.

Of course, sometimes I don’t reach out. Sometimes I have do not disturb on for a week straight and drop one vague text in a group chat and call it a day. But sometimes I need you there. Even if it’s just a simple snap saying how I feel or a late night text asking if you’re free to FaceTime: I need you. Granted, you’re not my therapist. Your mental health matters too. But supporting someone, but not just being their on-call psychologist, is a vital part of any friendship. Just don’t overdo it: for your sake and for mine.

 

 #3: Educate yourself.

I’m not isolating myself because I hate you. I don’t just feel bad for myself. And most of all, I don’t need to “try harder and “just look at the bright side”. Use trustworthy, informative sources that break down mental illness for you and can help you really comprehend what I might be going through. Take a step back and visit websites like the National Alliance of Mental Illness, American Psychological Association, or even just ask me what it feels like (if I seem comfortable with that sort of question).

 

#4: Remember we love you. And we’re there for you too.

I’m not sorry about who I am. I am sorry though if I scare you, if I worry you, if I annoy you. I still love you even when I’m distant. I still want you to be my friend and I still value our time together, even though it seems like I really don’t want any of it sometimes. You’re still important to me and your support makes you even more special to me than you were before. I appreciate you and see the hard work you put in to help me. And I’m there for you too.