At some stage in our lives, each of us will suffer with mental ill-health. It’s important, therefore, to know how to manage our own mental health but it’s also important to know how to support someone in difficulty.
The first thing to remember is that, like pregnancy, mental health issues are not catching. You won’t ‘end up like’ the friend or relative you support when they’re feeling low.
Personally, I find that the most qualifying, the most dignifying, and the most helpful support I have ever received from friends who have supported me is what compassionate professionals call ‘witnessing’. Simply put, this is the act of ‘allowing’ the person who is suffering to go through what they are going through without trying to minimise or ‘fix’ it; without trying to shake the person out of how they are feeling or tell them that shouldn’t need to feel as bad as they do. Just allowing a person to sit in silence, or sit and cry and not trying to intervene is hugely empowering for the person in pain.
Sometimes we stay away from people who are in mental anguish because we are embarrassed to see someone who is in pain, or because we don’t want to see our own pain reflected back at us. It’s really important not to further isolate people in pain by shunning them. It adds to the stigma, and can make people more reluctant to reach out.
If you share a hobby or have a standing arrangement with someone who is suffering mental ill-health, don’t change your common routine just because they’re not feeling well. They may not be as chipper as usual and they may be resistant to going out but if that’s the case, can you go to them? Feeling that people still care can be a huge help to recovery for most people.
Do remember that ‘this, too, shall pass’ and your friend will return to themselves. In the meantime, though, you don’t have to have all the answers, just being there and making the odd phone call or the odd cup of tea can make all the difference. Letting your friend know that you think they’re worth bothering about and worth the time and effort you put into the relationship can help them to feel that way about themselves.
Finally, bear in mind that if you want a friend, be a friend. You never know when your own mental health will suffer and you’ll want support, understanding and kindness yourself.