How to support a friend with mental illness

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By Beth Harris, Wellbeing Editor

The Croft Magazine // Mental health can be a difficult barrier to breach. Here is a short guide on how best to support a friend who is struggling with mental health.

As the new year brings new opportunities and excitement, it also brings new challenges, and this can be overwhelming. It’s therefore important to recognise that for some, embarking on the university journey can be difficult and so may place a strain on their mental health and wellbeing.

This was specifically shot for a mental health company called Brogliebox (www.brogliebox.com). I asked if i could have permission to share on unsplash, as I found the image to be very simple yet visually pleasing.
Photo by Dustin Belt / Unsplash

For some people, leaving home may mean leaving behind familiarity and the support network provided by their friends and family. Therefore, it is important to look out for others, particularly at the start of term, to ensure that everyone feels cared for and able to talk if they are in need of support. A 2013 NUS survey found that 58% of students suffering from mental distress shared their feelings with friends, compared to only 10% who sought help from their university. Thus, it is clear that friendships play a significant role in mental health support at universities. However, knowing how to identify when someone is struggling with mental health and how best to support them can be difficult.

Fortunately, there a breadth of resources available online that offer useful advice and tips on how best to support a friend. The best of which I have found to be a resource provided by Student Minds – the UK’s student mental health charity. Whilst more detail can be found on their website, I have put together a short guide on how to support a friend who is struggling with mental health and wellbeing.

...mental health is a very personal experience and the signs can be difficult to spot.

Starting a conversation

Starting that first conversation can be the hardest part, as it can be difficult to know what to say. However, choosing where and when to have the conversation is just as important as what you say. Suggest going for a walk or a meal just the two of you as this may make it easier to talk openly, and ensure that you have enough time to talk as leaving halfway through the conversation may leave your friend feeling like you do not fully support them.

Coffee Talks
Photo by Joshua Ness / Unsplash

Whilst you may not understand what your friend is going through, try not to act shocked as this may make them feel less able to talk freely. It is likely that you won’t know what to say and will be unable to offer advice – don’t worry - just by listening you are showing them that you are there for them.

Ask open questions such as ‘How can I support you?’ rather than ‘Why’ questions as these are less intimidating and encourage further conversation.

Support comes in different forms

Don’t forget about the fun stuff! Enjoy spending time together, whether that be going shopping, taking part in a sport, or socialising at the pub. It can be easy to withdraw from social situations and focus on talking about worries or concerns.

...you can’t support them with everything. Establish some boundaries.

If your friend is struggling with their mental health, waiting for them to arrange something or asking them what they want to do may be overwhelming. Suggest a plan and remember to keep inviting them along, even if they say no to make sure that they still feel included.

Don’t forget to look after yourself

It can be difficult not to worry about your friend but remember you can’t support them with everything. Establish some boundaries. Solving day to day problems alone will improve their confidence and ensure that you and your friend don’t become too reliant on each other. Remember that you are still friends and so if it gets too much, you may want to confide in someone who you trust to take a little pressure off yourself.

Finally, it is important to remember that mental health is a very personal experience and the signs can be difficult to spot.

Remember that supporting a friend does not mean you are there to make a diagnosis. However, if there is a diagnosis it may be useful to do some research. Helpful resources include Mind and Student Minds. These not only explain what specific diagnoses involve but offer advice on how best to support someone who is dealing with that diagnosis, helping you to offer more specific support.

Featured: Unsplash / Roman Kraft


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