World Mental Health Day: How to Respond When a Friend Comes to You with a Mental Health Problem

World Mental Health Day: How to Respond When a Friend Comes to You with a Mental Health Problem
2020-10-11

There are moments in life, when you just feel overwhelmed. You have this close friend, who seems to have it all. You’d never thought, that they would be in trouble. But let me tell you, the difficult thing about mental health struggles is, that they are invisible. People with mental health issues are most likely to keep it together at all times, keeping up a façade. Especially without realizing that they are having a mental health issue, they can function like everyone else. Furthermore, they often are heavy workers.

There might come a moment in your life, when a close friend opens up to you and tells you, that they are not okay. I know, this is overwhelming. Here are some tips how to handle the situation.

Be honest.

Most likely you are surprised. Maybe some behaviors patterns are making sense to you about the person. Tell them honestly, what you are feeling right now, that you are thankful that they opened up to you, but you don’t quite know how to handle it. When someone opens up to you, that typically means they want to talk. Listening is enough most of the times. Maybe they’ll need help with seeking further assistance like from a psychologist. You can always ask, if there is something specific you can do for them. You can never go wrong by asking, what you can do to make them feel better.

Do not judge.

Mental health issues are highly individual, so there is no space for judgment. You can support your friend by reminding them how much you care about them. Also, just ask how they are doing. But it’s important to not treat them differently, like they are broken or fragile. You can look confident and have anxiety. You can have a panic attack and walk into a meeting moments later. You can smile and have depression. You can text you are busy while having a mental breakdown. Just because someone carries it well, doesn’t mean it isn’t heavy. Never be dismissive with phrases like “Everyone is sad sometimes” or “Just go out in the sun and you will feel better!”.

It is not your story to share.

When someone trusts you with a story about a mental health issue, then it is because they trust you. It is up to them with whom they want to share this journey. It is not your place to share this kind of intimate information with anybody. There is one exception: if you think your friend is going to harm themself, please call for help. You can call the police or an ambulance. If you feel like they are falling into a deep dark place – call for help. This is not breaking their trust but caring for them in a way they want you to.

Set boundaries.

Even though you are great friends and you love to listen – you are not a therapist. If someone close to you has mental health issues, try to help them to seek assistance. That can be a therapist, or this can also be someone specialised in listening, for example at uni or other organisations. There are also some self-help groups, where people with the same issues can talk freely without judgment about it. It is okay for you to set boundaries how deep you want to be involved in your friend’s issues.

How to help

Sometimes, it helps just having someone sitting beside them. Or hugging them, so they won’t fall apart. Just offer to listen or to do something, like go for a walk. You do not have to fix your friends problem. Mental health problems can only be fixed from the inside. But you can support them along the way. Make a hot cup of tea. Ask them, what you can do, when they are panicking. Bring a glass of water. Offer them to do something for them, like cleaning the dishes or pick up their groceries. Those small tasks can make all the difference, when someone has a mental health issue.

 

In the end, you are a great friend if someone trusts you enough to open up to you with something so very personal. Some mental health issues are small and just temporary, some are having a bigger impact on their life and are harder to fight. No matter what, I’ll leave you with a quote, that is a great description of mental health issues: “You can be a fighter and have pain inside of you. You can be a hero and live with trauma. You can be brave and still need a break” – Najwa Zebian. 

Published by Students, University of Aberdeen

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