There are times when those who suffer from mental health issues or illnesses may feel isolated, alone and lonely. What they would love is the opportunity to speak to someone and have a shoulder to lean on. During my darkest times I could literally go days without speaking to anyone and weeks going into months of not seeing anyone I knew. It’s in those situations that your mind can take you to unimaginable places, experiencing a wide range of emotions or sometimes no emotion at all.
For those who don’t suffer from any mental health issues, it might not be easy to understand what a sufferer may go through or experience. Understandably so. More times than not, those who suffer from anxiety or depression keep their emotions inwards and as a friend or a support system you may not know how to respond or help.
If you don’t know how to approach a situation or be of help, here are a few guidances that I wish those around me could apply at the time but still believe can be implemented to cultivate a much needed safe environment:
1. Cultivate the right environment
Sometimes the environment your friend is in doesn’t allow for them to be open or share what’s on their mind to those around them. Even though I know I have caring friends, sometimes I didn’t always feel comfortable enough around them to talk and ask for the help they may be offering. Some suffers just can’t express their feelings because the person they want to speak to hasn’t cultivated the environment needed that enables the much needed conversation.
So, take your friend out to dinner. Go their house. Share YOUR struggles. Normalise the conversation about dealing with general life problems and how you’ve navigated through it. By asking open questions it allows for a more open, honest and comfortable conversation.
No, you’re not a therapist. A professional. Or knowledgeable of the situation. But you are a friend and what are friends for if you can’t lend an ear. People who are suffering want to share and express their emotions but its the exact same issues/illnesses that they suffer from that prohibit them from doing so. Being a trusted ear allows them to relieve their pressures.
Some people express themselves in different ways. It could be with a lot of tears. Some use humour and with others it’s deep long stories. But if you truly care for your friends’ wellbeing, listen and accommodate them. Allow them to be vulnerable and expressive.
3. Be patient
Suffering from depression and/or anxiety is a testing and consuming condition. There is no quick fix. Sometimes your friend may be consumed by triggers that they are dealing with and therefore not willing to talk or to go out to events/clubs or meet up in big groups settings. Sometimes they just want to be alone and recover from a relapse.
So be patient with your friend, they may not answer your calls or text right away but be understanding and let them know that you are there for them at any time when they’re ready. Such small gestures and words mean A LOT and can change their situation around.
4. Less stress and more fun
At the end of the day everyone wants and deserves happiness. You have your life ahead of you. So the last thing you want to do is be in a dark place, both physically and mentally.
Some suffers react to their triggers in different ways. Some people do want to be left alone whilst others want to be dragged out of their situation. During my darkest moments the one thing I wanted was to be invited out and do something that wasn’t destructing my mental health and provided me with just a glimpse of happiness. So, maybe do something that your friend would love to do but hasn’t been able to do. Possibly something intimate or personal to them. Do what they like doing. Find out where they want to do but anxiety may prevent them from doing so. Or get them back into what once brought them joy or fun.
Even if you don’t suffer from any mental health issues, understand that you can relate. By talking about your issues at work, school/university &/or relationships, it shows your friend that they can trust you and they can also in turn talk about their issues.
You may not have all the answers but as an open friend you can be the one answer to so many issues by just being there when you’re needed the most. Be there in the tough times and best believe they’ll remember you in the good times.