Friends: in sickness & in health
We hear it all the time.
If you’re struggling, then tell someone.
Don’t suffer in silence.
It’s okay to not be okay.
There’s no shame in asking for help.
In reality, it doesn’t always work out like that. You take a risk and tell someone, but they say nothing – sometimes perhaps because they don’t know what to say, but sadly sometimes because they just don’t want to know. And so you find you do then suffer in silence, that there is actually a degree of shame in asking for help, and not being okay…. well it’s just not okay.
There’s never a ‘good’ time to need a bit of support. Everyone has their own stuff going on, life is happening all around us, even when it feels the world has stopped because it’s all become too difficult… but there are ways of being the friend, even when you can’t be the exact friend someone might be looking for (or even want to be the friend at all)
- Don’t ignore. You don’t have to spend hours on the phone, but it takes less than 10 seconds to acknowledge someone by text, even if it’s just to say you’re thinking of them. No one likes to be greeted with a wall of silence – including you – so don’t assume there’s someone else filling the gap you’re leaving.
- Be honest. You don’t need to understand. If you can’t relate to how someone is feeling or what they’re going through, then just say so. Chances are, your friend doesn’t understand it either.
- Be real. You’ve got your own stuff going on; your friend may have picked the worst possible time for you personally – so say so. No over-sharing is needed, but you’re perfectly placed as far as empathy goes. Isn’t it sometimes a comfort to know you’re not the only person having a rough time?
- Do Something. Anything. Even if it is just sending the occasional text. My friend Liza was so stuck to know how to help me she essentially tricked me into running. If that hadn’t of worked, she said she’d have tried something else. Sometimes it’s not what we say, but what we do. Small gestures make big differences, even when it’s not immediately obvious. Make sure you still include them in the way you always did – invite them to stuff, even if they initially say no. People struggling with their mental health still go to the cinema, still shop – and are often no less capable at work, either… keep on doing.
- Love is patient, love is kind… what love ISN’T, is irritable, annoyed, bored and exasperated. If all else fails, just quietly and gently communicate love – you never know when you’re going to need a dose of it in return.
- Change the subject. They’re struggling with depression? Talk about something else. They’re high on anxiety? Talk about something else. In the grip of an eating disorder? Talk about something else. Mental health is consuming, but people are still capable of talking about other things, and sometimes doing just that can be the best distraction there is – give them a 20-minute holiday from their reality by changing the subject.
- If you know someone well, and you know things are fading fast, then don’t be afraid to intervene – it could save a life. We don’t sit back if someone is a little bit ‘heart-attacky’, so we shouldn’t sit back if someone is a little bit suicidal. It doesn’t matter how many times you may feel you’ve been there with them before.
- Walk away. If you don’t feel you can be a friend to someone when their mental health is less than great, then you’re probably not the friend they deserve when they’re well. We’re all human, and all respond badly or misjudge situations ALL THE TIME, but if you find your first reaction is to roll your eyes or think ‘what now?’… ask yourself why.
- If you were in their shoes, what would YOU need? You may be fortunate to have never experienced anxiety, depression or whatever else it may be, but a bit of self-reflection can go a long way. How do you naturally self-care when you’re having a tough time? Are you a talker or an internal processor? What’s helpful for you? What’s not helpful? The easiest way to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is to try them on for yourself.
- Be kind to yourself. If you get it wrong, don’t beat yourself up – acknowledge it and go again. If you’re closely involved and it’s becoming really difficult, then ask for help yourself from other friends. Ensure you’re not the only source of support for someone, and do things that energise you and make you laugh. Be a friend, but look after yourself as well.
There’s no such thing as the perfect friend; we all stuff it up at certain times, we all have breaking points and patience isn’t always the easiest of virtues to find. But we need friends – we need community – you may be the supporter right now, but at any moment you could find yourself needing to make that call, send that text or have that conversation.
This is, and always will be, a team effort.