Friends are important — they make up a huge chunk of our lives and help keep loneliness at bay. The feeling of being alone is probably one of the most unpleasant feelings that we can experience. Just as Aristotle, the Greek Philosopher, proclaimed, “Man is by nature a social animal” — there is a perpetual need for humans to converse, share, and make memories with people that are important in their life.
In other words, we need people who will love, protect, support, and care for us. That's what makes a good friend stand out from the other people in your life. Generally, a “good friend” is encouraging, supportive, loving, someone who listens, who tells you when you’re doing something wrong, and so much more. This Friendship Day, we have curated for you an easy list on how to support your friend in the journey of mental health.
However, before we get to that, it is crucial to remember that we can never pour from an empty cup. What that means is before anything else, we need to take care of our mental health first. When there’s too much on our plates we might end up being too emotionally exhausted —ultimately unable to be of any help at all. So you might first want to make sure that you’re mentally able to take on the responsibility of being someone else’s support system.
Once you ensure that your mental health is at an optimal level, you can set out on the journey to help your friend with their mental well-being. Here's how:
Make Sure They Feel Heard
If your friend wants to talk, try your hardest to make them feel heard. Sometimes, listening might be the only thing you can do. Talking about something can help reduce the weight of whatever is bothering them, whether it's about their feelings or a dilemma they are currently facing.
When we’re going through a difficult time, even everyday situations seem stressful. One might feel vulnerable and alone at such times. As their friend, you need to constantly remind and show them that they are not on their own. Love and support are available all around them!
Quick Fixes Do Not Always Help
As much as you might want to help find a solution, remind yourself that it is not always easy for them and that quick fixes would not always help. If a friend comes to you with their problems, they might only want to talk or rant. Even if it feels like the solutions to the problems at hand are right in front of our eyes, it is imperative to understand that these problems may be more complex than how we perceive them. There may be parts of the issue that our friends might not want to (fully) disclose, and/or, other factors that we may not be aware of, adding to the complexity of their issues.
Try to be as patient as you can be. When trying to help or support someone in need, we cannot be impatient and demanding. Wounds don’t heal overnight. With adequate medication and care, we can speed up the healing process, but it becomes unrealistic to expect them to heal in a day or two. Similarly, mental health recovery or journeys tend to take longer. Therefore, we always need to be mindful of that and remember to be patient with our friends.
Try not to rush them or pressurise them in any way. Pressurising can look like asking someone questions such as, “Are you okay now?”, or, “Are you better now?”, repeatedly. It can also look like showing disapproval or shock when a friend expresses that they haven’t been able to move on from a particular situation.
Don't Be Dismissive Or Judgemental
Try not to be dismissive or judgemental of their problems when you’re talking to them. People face different kinds of issues, and how a problem affects an individual varies from person to person. So to be on the safer side, refrain from passing judgment on someone else’s reaction to certain problems or the way they're dealing with them.
Our goal is to help them express how they’re feeling and not suppress them. When friends choose to tell us about their problems, they might seem insignificant to us, but it is crucial to them. Most of the time, we are unaware of how dismissive our responses may sound.
For example, a friend suffering from severe anxiety may disclose that they are still unable to tell their boss that they need more breaks at work.
A dismissive comment can sound like, “Wow, really? You’re still stuck on that? It’s so easy, just ask!” A dismissive comment can also look like “It’s okay, you’ll be fine”, or, “Don’t worry about it too much” and “Don’t be sad” etc.
We must pay extra attention to what our friends are saying so that we can offer them our full support.
As hinted in the previous tip, paying attention is also extremely helpful and something that we might want to practice when supporting a friend.
Don't Pressure Them To Talk
Try not to pressure them into talking. As important as it is for us to listen, our friends might not always want to talk about the issue that they’re facing; especially when it’s still relatively new. Understandably, you might want to be the person that they come to and trust. However, our friends not talking to us about their problems is not indicative of their lack of trust. Instead, it could simply mean that they aren’t ready yet. That is why it becomes crucial to try to be as patient as you can be, and not make them feel pressured to talk when they are not ready.
If your friend wants to try something that might be good for their overall well-being, try to encourage them as much as possible. Your friend might likely want to try something new - art therapy, group therapy, meditation, etc. However, due to the all-menacing cold feet, they might be stopping themselves from having a new adventure. This can happen to anybody, but it gets better much sooner if you have a strong support system. You can be that support system by giving them constant encouragement to try new things.
Encourage Them To Seek Professional Help
If your friend is going through something and you feel like it’s getting a little too serious, try to steer them in the direction of professional help.
Supporting and caring for our friends is extremely important, but we may not always have the ability and the resources to ensure that they recover fully. Furthermore, support can also look like encouraging them to get the professional help that they might require! You can easily book a therapy session for your friend on the Heart It Out website. We would be happy to help you out!
Although there are more things that we can do to show our support to our friends on their mental health journeys, ultimately, the most important thing of them all is simply to be there for them. Visit our Help A Friend section to understand in detail how you can be supportive of your friend in different situations.
Additionally, make sure that your friend knows that they have got you, no matter what! Showing support doesn’t necessarily mean directly addressing our friends' problems or the situations that surround them. Sometimes just showing up, lending an ear, or even a nice, thoughtful gesture can help.