Everyone has those people in their lives that they trust with everything and anything. Many of us don't know where we would be without friends. But sadly, many people who struggle with mental illness do not have friends and a support system that they can fall back on - most people who struggle with these things end up secluding themselves. In this article, we're going to take a closer look at befriending those who struggle with their mental health and doing it in a way that can help them to live a happier, healthier life.
Why is Befriending Important?
Everyone wants and needs friends, because it's healthy for us to be in healthy, loving relationships and get the support of other people. This is a basic need, but not everyone gets what they need in the world of friendships and relationships. This is especially important for those who are struggling with mental health problems, because those problems can be overwhelming and frightening. Many people who struggle with mental health issues will run away or push away people out of fear or because they worry that they're going to harm their loved ones in some way. In the worst cases, family members and friends will leave out of frustration or because they're afraid of their loved one.
Because of this, it's incredibly important that you remain steadfast. By befriending those who are trying to walk through these valleys alone, you find that it's a lot easier for them to deal with life in a proper way. It also helps them to feel more confident. In some cases, you can help your loved one get out more so that they can interact with other people in a healthy manner. It's all about taking the time to make them feel like they are a little more "human," especially in those times that they don't feel like they are.
Tips for Befriending Someone with a Mental Health Struggle
So you've made the decision to befriend someone who is struggling with mental health problems. Whether your loved one has depression, anxiety, extreme stress, a learning disability, something on the autism spectrum, or whatever else, these tips will be able to apply to your friendship in an effective manner.
- Be patient. Some days, your loved one may push all of your buttons and cause you to be stressed out. Be patient; sometimes, they don't even realize how much pressure or stress that they are putting on you. Sometimes, you may need to take time away in order to recuperate your strength, but don't push them away unless there is abuse or another issue that comes up as a result of it.
- Don't treat them any differently. Most people who struggle with mental illness just want to be seen and treated like normal, everyday people. Most of the time, they are just like everyone else, they just have this specific thing that they struggle with and they need help to deal with it effectively. So hang out with them, take them places, and only adjust when they need you to do so. Go by their signals, don't coddle them.
- Allow them to be independent when and where they can. For some people, independence is a big deal because the mental health issue makes it difficult for them to function "normally." So, if they have something that they can do (say, someone with social anxiety feels okay when they go grocery shopping), let them do it. It will help build confidence. But, if they need some help one day, be there for them if you can.
- Be sensitive when talking about mental health topics. Mental health issues are so taboo, and it's unfortunate. It's difficult to talk about them sometimes, but if you know how to talk about them with compassion and empathy, you're going to be able to help your loved one a lot better than if you just talked about it flippantly or if you avoided it entirely. So be empathetic toward them, ask sensitive questions, and be sensitive when a mental health incident or crisis is occurring.
- Ask them what you can do if they are having an "off day." If your friend is bipolar and they have their depressive days, you should ask them what you need to do in order to help them get through the day. If they have a panic disorder, ask them how you can help them to get through a panic attack. By understanding the "bad days," you have the ability to be supportive without becoming frightened or running away.
There are plenty of ways that you can befriend someone who is going through mental health struggles. The most important thing to remember is that they are people too, and by making sure that you help them the best that you can.
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Families and friends of people affected by mental illness. (2014). Retrieved May 21, 2014, from http://www.sane.org/information/factsheets-podcasts/206-families-and-friends-of-people-affected-by-mental-illness
Mental Health Foundation. (2009). Friendship and Mental Health. Retrieved May 23, 2014, from http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/help-information/mental-health-a-z/F/friendship/
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (n.d.). For Friends and Family Members. Retrieved May 22, 2014, from http://www.mentalhealth.gov/talk/friends-family-members/index.html
Gould, M. (2008, March 26). Complementary medicine. Retrieved May 22, 2014, from http://www.theguardian.com/society/2008/mar/26/mentalhealth