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Ways to Support a Friend’s Mental Health Without Letting It Affect You

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Wilfrid Laurier chapter.

It’s halfway through the semester, and you’re likely not the only one feeling the mid-term college burnout. Even while dealing with your personal life, your friends may still frequently depend on you to listen and support them with their mental health challenges. As harmless as it seems to be the “therapy friend,” it’s easy to lose yourself when always listening to your friends’ problems and likely ignoring your own. The hardest part about having these mental health conversations with your friends is realizing that no one is at fault. Your friends want someone to listen to them and it’s not your fault for already feeling overwhelmed without dealing with their emotional baggage too. While it’s always a good idea to encourage them to seek professional help, there are other ways to support your friend’s mental health without letting it negatively affect you too.

Set Boundaries

It’s hard to know what to do when a friend is struggling with mental illness, but it’s important to prioritize yourself first. Check-in with yourself to understand what you currently feel before offering support to others. Realizing how you’re doing can also help separate your own emotions from your friends. Next time your friend wants to get something off their chest, setting boundaries can look something like, “I’m not feeling the best right now and would like to take some time for myself. Maybe we can pick this conversation up later?” If you want to, offering to discuss later helps to create a distance from your friends and their problems without completely ignoring them.

Take Care of Yourself

Supporting a friend with mental health issues is emotionally exhausting, especially if you’re busy enough trying to find time to take care of yourself. Not only should you suggest therapy to your friends, but you may also want to consider trying therapy yourself. It shouldn’t become anyone’s habit to depend on one person and you should have other sources of emotional support. Be honest with your friends about how you’re feeling! Good friends will understand where you’re coming from and allow you to prioritize your self-care routine first. You can also build healthy self-care habits together! It’s always easier to try something new with someone else, especially when you can hold each other accountable to continue these new habits. Something as easy as going to the gym together every week will help you both care for yourselves mentally and physically and allow you to spend some quality time together.

Provide Reassurance

Dealing with mental illness tends to make you forget about your strengths and instead focus on your weaknesses. Genuine compliments can provide comfort and confidence to friends, especially if they aren’t feeling their best. Let your friends know you care about them and will be there for them. It’s important and valuable to show that you acknowledge your friends as more than their mental illnesses.

Encourage Them to Visit a Professional

Providing verbal affirmations and advice can only do so much for a friend who struggles with mental health, and likely your words will be very different than those from a professionally licensed therapist. Many people may be uncomfortable and hesitant with the idea of seeing a therapist due to social stigma, but you can be there to provide non-judgmental support and encouragement. It takes a lot of courage to attend therapy and often takes a few tries before you find the best type of therapy for you.

Let your friends know when you’re ready to listen to them, however, be self-aware of when to offer advice and avoid trying to “fix” their problems. The best thing to do is to listen and allow your friends to confide in you. Supporting loved ones can be very difficult, so remember to take care of yourself and always ask for help if you need it too! Your mental health is just as important as your friend’s, and it should never feel like your responsibility to manage their mental health. You can only have the time and patience to care for others when you’re already taking care of yourself!

Melissa Huen

Wilfrid Laurier '22

Melissa is in her 4th year at Wilfrid Laurier University, studying Music Therapy with a minor in Psychology. When she's not busy raving about her hometown, Vancouver, BC, you can find her baking, travelling, or checking out the newest restaurants in town.