How to help a friend with mental health issues

friend with mental health issues

Approximately 1 in 4 people will suffer from mental health issues at some stage of their life. That makes it pretty likely that this will include people in your life – friends, family and people you hold dear. But what do you say to a friend with mental health issues? How can you help someone close to you struggling with mental health? This World Mental Health Day I’ve teamed up with my lovely friend Laura from Five Little Doves – who has suffered with depression, panic, anxiety and an eating disorder in her life –  in this honest discussion of what to say and do to help a friend with mental health issues.

Could you share some of your thoughts and feelings about living with mental health issues?

Gosh, where to start! I have lived with mental health issues since my teens when, completely out of nowhere, I suffered from depression. I think as with many illnesses, one issue can spiral into another, and before you know it you are trapped in a vicious cycle of self doubt, self loathing, and sadly, even self harm. By the time I hit my twenties I was depressed, I had panic and anxiety disorder, I was anorexic and later developed antenatal and postnatal depression.

It can be so hard to know what to say and do when a friend has mental health issues…what are your words of advice to someone trying to figure this out?

Say something. Seriously, that is always my main advice. You’d be surprised at the number of friends who tried to ignore what was happening, either by avoiding broaching the subject or by avoiding me altogether. At a time when I desperately needed help, I felt increasingly isolated and alone. Had just one friend sat me down and told me, we are worried about you, or asked me how they could help, perhaps I wouldn’t have withdrawn myself further.

Just how important are supportive friends to people struggling with mental health?

So important, as I touched on above. I think the worst thing for anyone suffering mental illness is for them to feel alone, it simply fuels their issues and their belief that they are not worthy, in whatever way. When my anxiety was bad, or my mood very low, or even when I was struggling to eat in public, I would cancel on friends or leave early to go home, or make excuses why I couldn’t go out for a meal, and instead of trying to understand that, many of my friends simply stopped inviting me at all. That really hurt, and still does.

Often people can be quick to dismiss or may respond negatively when they find out a friend is suffering with their mental health.Why do you think that is?

I think that is completely down to ignorance. I think for many people, mental illness is still such a huge taboo and they feel so uncomfortable talking about it or seeing it as an illness at all.

How can we move past our own uneasiness surrounding mental health?

We can educate ourselves. I think that is the solution to so many of the problems in our world. With 1 in 4 people developing mental illness at some point in their lives we need to realise that this isn’t something to feel uneasy about or embarrassed, it’s affecting a quarter of the population every single day.

Everyone is different but how would you suggest someone responds when a friend tells them they are struggling with mental health?

I would suggest that you simply offer your love and support, that’s the best you can do to help someone. Giving someone a hug, holding their hand, wiping away their tears and telling them we will get through this together, that’s all we want to hear.

And what should they absolutely not say?

“Cheer up!”

“What have you got to be depressed about?”

“You’re just having a bad day…”

“Just eat!”

“Stop worrying…”

“You’re being selfish…”

I have heard countless comments over the years, from friends, family, strangers and even health care professionals. None of these things are helpful and simply belittle our illness and fuel our issues.

What are some of the do’s of helping a friend with mental health issues?

I think the nicest thing any of my friends has ever done for me was to go to the library, take out a book on anorexia, and read it cover to cover in the hope of understanding a little of what I was going through. She visited me several times when I was hospitalised over it, and although she was unable to make me better, hearing that she was at least trying was exactly the support I needed.

And the don’ts?

Don’t make somebodies mental illness your issue. This was something I experienced a lot, and still do. I had friends who actually felt hurt and even angry towards me for changing. I began to feel on edge every time I was going through a bad patch, worried that I would upset them if I even mentioned my issues. Mental illness is such a personal journey and you literally have to do whatever it is you need to do to survive, others need to be accepting of that.

Anything else you would like to add?

I would say that no matter what you are going through, or how bad things seem, one day, maybe in years from now, you will look back and realise that everything you went through made you the person you are today. I have no regrets about my struggles, then or now, and although I will never be completely free of my mental health issues, I am stronger and kinder for having gone through them.

I really hope the above Q&A has been helpful to anyone who is concerned about what to do and say to a friend or loved one experiencing mental health issues. If you have any questions or concerns please do feel free to share them in a comment below and please visit Laura’s blog Five Little Doves for more on on her journey with mental health.

How to help a friend with mental health issues

 

 

33 comments

  1. Thank you so much for allowing me to do this with you, it’s SO important that we talk about mental illness and be honest about our struggles. Mental illness touches everyone, either directly or indirectly, and it saddens me that there is still such a stigma attached. Good on you for sharing this Talya, it’s always an honour to feature on your blog. Xxx

  2. This is such an amazing and helpful post, for a lot of people I’m sure. I’m guilty of cancelling plans and hiding at home when I’m having a tough day, but my friends are so supportive and encouraging and remind me that getting out will ultimately make me feel better. And they are always right.

  3. I suffer with Depression myself and I make no secret of the fact that I take anti-depressant medication. Things changed for me when I finally admitted to myself that something was wrong and accepted help from the Doctor. It’s important to speak out about Mental Health, it made everything for me 1000x better and Ive slowly been going from strength to strength x
    Lisa – The Love of a Captain Blog recently posted…VTech 5-in-1 Stroll and Grow Trike ReviewMy Profile

  4. I agree with this support useful post and I think when it comes to Mental Health it’s so important to be supportive, not dismissive as well as empathic and be there for someone – can make a huge difference

    Laura x

  5. This is such a great post. It’s so easy for people to struggle with what to say but it’s such a shame that Laura was left so hurt when people said nothing at all. Really useful advice from someone in the know. I hope it makes a difference for others in similar situations and their friends/family x #coolmumclub

  6. This was such an interesting read. Im glad menatl health is now more widely recognsied and people are bringing it out of the cupboard so to speak. Brilliant read #coolmumclub

  7. This is such a brilliant and hugely important post. I just want to make everyone read it. My husband had never had to deal with someone who had mental health issues until I started to suffer with anxiety three years ago and he has had to really learn about what does and doesn’t help! Sensitivity is so important. Great post xxx #coolmumclub

  8. Well ANY post about mental health always makes me sit up. We have a very serious issue in my family with it and I think possibly THE most astonishing thing anyone has ever said to me came from one of my sisters who has been guilty of the ‘what do you have to be down about?’ line one too many times. I say one too many because, apart from being a daft to thing to say as nobody knows what’s going on in someone’s mind, she herself has suffered from chronic depression most of her life! I could go on. Love that two of my fave bloggers teamed up for this. #coolmumclub

  9. Laura I’m so sorry to hear about the challenges that you’ve faced. I think this is such a brilliant post as I agree with you that so many people just don’t understand it or know what to say, and so often avoid or “just give us some space” at a time when we critically need their support. Excellent advice on the simple things that can make such a life changing difference.

    Thanks for sharing Talya x #coolmumclub

  10. Wonderful advice from the amazing Laura FLD. Mental Health is something that lots of people struggle to know how to approach, and reading this would certainly help.

    Enjoy your #coolmumclub break co host with the most!

    #CoolMumClu

  11. My friend’s teenager is suffering from depression and her mom always tells her to cheer up…like it’s that simple. It’s frustrating because even the therapist has talked to her about these blanket statements that don’t help. We really need more education on mental health. #BlogCrush

  12. Really sound advice, I agree the best thing to do is offer love and support. I find talking openly about feeling pretty hard and once when I hinted about how I felt everything was getting on top of me and that I was suffering with anxiety, my friend said “why would you feel stressed, what could you feel stressed about” this came from someone who has suffered anxiety and depression for years. Its a hard subject for others to understand as everyones experiences are so different x
    #CoolMumClub

  13. Personal support or attention really means a lot for a Mentaly disturbed person. Words of encouragement, showing love to them can heal their mind and stress. Your words of advice and your experiences are very helpful for many. Thanks for sharing.#Blogcrush

  14. This post is amazing and so insightful and useful for those who don’t know how to approach talking about mental health with their friends/family.xx #coolmumclub

  15. This post is spot on! As someone who has also suffered from depression and anxiety, I totally agree with the advice given here – you just need to hear that you are still loved and still valued. And you need to be told again and again. It is not because you are attention-seeking, it is because your brain is lying to you that you are inadequate. And it is very difficult to ignore your own brain, even though the lies seem completely illogical to everyone else. Thank you for sharing this helpful post #blogcrush
    Lucy At Home recently posted…Starting Nursery: Why I’m Worried (& Why I Shouldn’t Be)My Profile

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