It’s estimated that 1 in 6 people worldwide have, in the past week, experienced a common mental health problem – be that a panic attack, a bout of depression or behaviour that is symptomatic of OCD. In the UK, between 4 and 10 percent of people have depression and mixed anxiety & depression are said to be the cause of 1/5 of Brits missing work.
With these stats in mind, it’s safe to assume that the majority of people have at least one close friend who suffers from mental health problems. I am one of these people, and although I’m aware that other people’s mental health is not about me at all, I know what it’s like to be the only (for lack of a better word) “stable” one out of my friends.
My pals’ mental health has really come to the forefront of our conversations over the last year or so (thanks again, 2016). Because of this, my understanding of how to be there for someone who suffers with their mentality has improved a great deal.
Sometimes you won’t get it
There have been so many times when my friends have been going through their worst times and all that’s been going through my head is “what the fuck, why can’t they just snap out of it”. It’s taken a lot of patience, a few drunken arguments and plenty of ups-and-downs for me to realise that I don’t get – and that’s okay.
Basically, the phrase “you do you” is never more apt than when in relation to mental health. If your friend wants to organise her underwear drawer at 11:30pm, then let her.
There’s a time and place to step in
When I say “you do you” I mean within a certain bracket. It’s all well and good letting your friend live their life the way they want, but if it gets to the point where you realise their lifestyle is being dictated by their anxiety, depression etc, then it’s probably time to sit down and have a chat.
From experience, I’ve found that picking a place that is comfortable where there there is no pressure to start talking is best. My friend and I used to go to Caffe Nero a lot in our second year of university, partly because the hot chocolates from Caffe Nero are life but also to discuss whatever was going down.
I’d pretty much clear my schedule for the afternoon when we’d planned to go to Caffe Nero. I found this to be a lot better tactic at getting her to talk about it than sitting her down and saying “I have 30 minutes until my seminar, talk to me about your problems now.”
You’ll need to shut up a lot
This ties in to the fact that sometimes you won’t get it. But it also alludes to the idea that telling your friends what to do when they struggle with their mental health isn’t what you should be doing. For a start, I’m going to assume that you aren’t a medical professional who is trained to give legit advice about mental health. Plus, your friends don’t come to you for you to act like their mother.
Trust me, I’ve tried acting like my friend’s mother and it just doesn’t work. All they do is stop telling you what’s going on with them. Rather than telling them what they should be doing, or being critical of what they are doing, just stfu and listen. Talking helps, especially when you are somebody they know won’t judge.
Do your research
As I said before, you aren’t a trained professional. But there are resources out there specifically for helping you help your friend. I tend to look on Mind.org, Time to Change and this post on the Everyday Feminism website if I feel I’m slightly out of depth with what my friends are experiencing.
Obviously, my experience has generally been with people who suffer from anxiety & depression – but the Rethink site and Campus Mind Works also seem like helpful places to visit online for all sorts of mental illness.
At the end of the day, mental health is a constant struggle and I’d be lying if I came out with some cliche shit like “follow these simple steps and everything will be fine!”. But hopefully they should make you feel less like an ignorant prick who doesn’t know the first thing about mental health, and more like you’re doing something that will actual help.