How to best support your friend's mental health

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By Lucy O'Neill, Second Year French and Spanish

Lucy O'Neill discusses the ways in which you can best care for your friends when they are suffering from mental health issues.

It is no secret that the rates of mental health problems diagnosed in young people are on the rise. According to a BBC article published only last week, 'the number of children seeking help from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in England, has more than doubled over the past two years.' The article argues whether or not this dramatic rise is a result of our increased awareness of mental health problems, or more ominously, a true ‘epidemic.’ Either way, what is important is that faced with this problem, we are able to provide our friends with support when it is needed.

Mental health problems can be difficult to navigate, not only for those afflicted, but also for their family and friends. Often, they can change the nature of relationships, causing distance and a breakdown in communication, meaning that it is often hard to gauge the nature of your friend’s suffering, and by extension, the best way to help them. Sometimes the task of supporting your friend can be overwhelming, and your relationship can become strained as you put pressure on yourself to do the impossible. Often, it can feel as though your mental health is suffering itself, so below is a list of tips to keep you on the right tracks.

Often, they can change the nature of relationships, causing distance and a breakdown in communication, meaning that it is often hard to gauge the nature of your friend's suffering, and by extension, the best way to help them.

via GIPHY

Helpful tips:

1) Catch up regularly
In 2017, the Guardian cited a survey in which they found that more than half of young people link mental illness with alienation and isolation. This association is definitely avoidable. Let your friend know that they are cared for and accepted no matter their problems. You could, for example, make a point of catching up with them regularly, and letting them know that they can call you if and when they need a chat.

2) Open up to THEM
It is important not to force your friends to open up to you, as this may encourage them to pull away and become withdrawn instead. You should show them that you are available without making them feel suffocated. Set the precedent by opening up to them, and being frank and light-hearted with your problems so that they know it is okay to talk, and that it is possible to look at things in a simpler light.

3) Act thoughtfully
Long periods of inactivity, lack of communication or reckless behaviour can indicate that your friend is struggling. You should ask if they are okay, but if they aren’t prepared to open up, you can let your actions speak instead. Make your friend a cup of tea or leave them encouraging notes to remind them that they are loved.

4) Be motivating
If your friend is open about their issues, this means they are more likely to accept your input, so you can try to help them constructively. For example, walk with them into their lectures if they are struggling with their motivation, or help them make a timetable. It is important not to put pressure on them, however, and to congratulate them on their little successes.

5) Encourage them to seek professional help
If your friend is severely struggling, you should encourage them to seek help professionally. You should not be solely responsible for your friend’s well-being, and, as prepared as you may be to make this sacrifice, you are most likely unqualified to deal with serious mental heath problems. If your friend is struggling, they are not going to be able to fulfil their side of a stable and rewarding relationship, and if you are their only source of support, your own mental health could easily become jeopardised, not only negatively affecting yourself, but ironically your ability to help.

6) Focus on YOU
The main thing to remember is that you cannot fix anyone. As much as your friend’s illness upsets you, as much as you want to push them towards happiness, you are not a doctor. You would not be able to cure your friend of an allergy and in this sense, a mental health problem is no different. It is important to give yourself space, and to congratulate yourself on every breakthrough. When things get a bit much, remember to do something fun. The world can be a daunting place and the mind can be a maze, but our friendships should be an escape, so hold on to the good moments and remember to keep creating new ones.

Featured Image / Hudson Hintze


What are your worries when it comes to supporting a friend? Comment below or get in touch!

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