mental health · mental health awareness month 2021

11 Ways You Can Support Your Friends with Mental Illness

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In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I will have a blog post every day this month on a different mental health topic! Be sure to follow to catch all 31 posts!

In the United States, almost 50% of the population has experienced mental illness at some point during their life. While mental illness looks and affects everyone differently, it is difficult to live with nonetheless.

Chances are, you love someone with mental illness. It could be a family member, a friend, your neighbor, a co-worker, a classmate, etc.

Without a global pandemic, mental illness is hard. With a global pandemic, at least personally, it is especially hard.

Oftentimes, my friends will tell me when I’m not feeling well to tell them how they can help. Don’t get me wrong, I am so so grateful for my friends, and that they are always so loving and supportive of me during my episodes. But, most of the time, that question isn’t actually helpful.

Why? Well, there’s several reasons. One is that I’m afraid of being a burden to them (even if I know that’s probably not reality.), another is that, honestly, most of the time I don’t know how they can help.

So, I asked my Instagram followers and friends to tell me how their loved ones can support them when they’re struggling with mental illness, and included my own thoughts as well. If you have a loved one who suffers from mental illness, try offering support in one of these ways instead of asking what you can do.

Encourage Me to Take Care of Myself.

When life is overwhelming, we oftentimes forget to do basic self-care activities, including hygiene. One of my followers told me that something that really helps her is her mom encouraging her to brush her teeth or shower.

Check In with Me about My Mental Health Like it’s Normal.

Mental health is still so stigmatized. We’ll asked our loved ones about work, the weather, their relationship… but how often do we ask how their mental health is? A few days ago, I told my best friend that I was really depressed and had spent the week in bed. I told her I had to go and get my medication, and today she texted me to check in and confirm that I had gotten them. This little act of kindness means a lot and can give us the motivation to follow through and check in.

Take Something Off My Plate.

Quite a few people told me the best thing that someone can do for them when their mental health is suffering is help out with concrete things. Whether that’s making a meal or ordering them food, or doing the dishes for them, or helping them clean or do the laundry… these things can make a big impact on someone who’s struggling to complete these tasks.

Encourage Me to Do the Things I Love.

A common symptom of mental illness is an inability to enjoy the things you normally do. For example, when I’m not feeling well, I don’t read, or move my body at all, or write, or blog, or do anything. One day recently I realized that even going to the pool (one of my favorite things to do) sounded unappealing and like a chore. But the truth is that we normally enjoy, even if it’s hard to do in the moment, can bring some relief. It’s just hard to see that when we’re in the throes of mental illness.

Please Be Patient with Me.

Mental illness is flakey. Mental illness can be selfish. Please know that we don’t want to hurt you with our symptoms. We may cancel plans, and it has nothing to do with you. Recently, I cancelled movie night with one of my closest friends not once, but twice in a week because I was severely depressed. Please know that we are doing our best, and that it’s the mental illness that causes us to be this. We don’t want to be this way, and soon we’ll be ourselves again.

Give Me Space and Time to Process Without Expecting Me to Talk about It.

Sometimes, we don’t want to talk about it. Sometimes, we simply can’t find the right words, and sometimes we just don’t want to talk about it. Whatever the reasons, if your friend needs time and space to process, please be patient and let them know you love them, and are there to talk if they need to, but aren’t expecting them to.

Check in Texts Mean a Lot.

You don’t have to wait until you realize we’re not doing well to check in with us. Sometimes, we can give the appearance that everything is fine, but really be struggling. If you think of us, shoot us a text to let us know. It doesn’t have to be a long thing, but can be as simple as sending a TikTok you think they’d appreciate with a short message like: “This reminded me of you! Just a reminder that I love you, and you mean a lot to me. I hope things are going well, but I’m here if they’re not. Or if they are.”

Listen without Giving Advice.

Sometimes we just need to process and vent without feeling like we’re being told what to do or what we’re doing isn’t right. When we talk about how we’re feeling, just listen. You can ask if we want advice, or just an ear to listen, but if we just want you to be our friend and hear us, please respect that. You can validate our experience by saying things like “That must really fucking suck.” or “That sounds so hard.”. But please don’t try to offer solutions unless we ask for them.

Remind Me That I Matter To You.

The thoughts in our heads can be pretty mean at times. They can make us second guess our relationships and leave us wondering if our friends actually like us. Oftentimes, logically, we know they probably do (probably), but sometimes we really don’t feel that way. We probably won’t tell you this, though. If you think of it, please remind us that we are an important and worthwhile part of your life. Even if you’re busy and unable to give a lot of time or energy to our relationship (Which happens, it’s okay!), remind us that you still care and are thinking about us.

Please Don’t Ask if I’m Okay.

This one is tricky, because when you realize your friend isn’t doing well, your first instinct may be to ask “are you okay?”. This is hard, because if the answer is no, we don’t want to tell you “no, I’m not okay.” and oftentimes, people who have chronic mental illness are never okay. Something is always wrong.

Include Me in Plans, Even if You Think I’ll Say No.

When our mental health is suffering, we can cancel plans or decline invitations to hang out repeatedly. This isn’t personal. Think of it as if we were physically ill: you wouldn’t expect your friend to hang out with you or keep your plans if they had the flu. I know it can be hard and disheartening for you, but please don’t stop inviting us, even if you think I’ll say no or cancel. By including and inviting us, we know that you enjoy our company and want to spend time with us. I promise. You can also try to adapt the plans to something that we feel up to doing. Maybe a zoom movie night? A day at your apartment complex’s pool or doing crafts at one of your houses if going out feels too overwhelming? But sometimes we just don’t have the energy to be around people. But I promise that it won’t be this way forever. So please keep including us in your plans.

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