October 10th was World Mental Health Day, and while I have not been diagnosed with a mental health condition I do have close friends and family members who have.
Often it seems very hard to know how to help our loved ones who are struggling with depression or anxiety. We want so desperately to fix them, we strive to look for something tangible and yet we know that a bandaid won’t help.
So I wanted to share with you some things that I do as a friend, to support my family and friends who are struggling with this.
I ask the question
I ask “How are you doing?” Not as a greeting, but with real intent to see where my friend is at today. And I genuinely want to know the answer. I make sure I don’t switch off, or interrupt with my stuff, but listen.
I acknowledge how they feel.
My friends don’t need me to cheer them up, to say, “it’ll all be ok, just think positively”. They are intelligent and capable women. They know these things. If they could just get out of it by thinking positively, it would just be a bad day, not depression.
My job is not to give them perspective, by telling them about all the people in the world who are worse off than them.
My job is not to play doctor, and attempt to get to the root of what triggered the depression this time.
My job is simply to say, “it sucks that you are feeling this way. What can I do to help?”
I keep the lines of communication open.
Sometimes my friends are unable to answer the “how can I help” question. Sometimes it is all they can do to say, “I’m not okay”. Sometimes there are great periods of silence as they struggle with their everyday.
When that happens I keep texting, calling, sending emails, even if I am getting nothing back. Just because my friend is not in a place to respond does not mean she doesn’t need to know I care.
Find a strategy that works between the two of you. One of my friends and I have a deal that if she doesn’t want to talk, that’s fine, but she needs to just send me a number out of ten for how she’s doing.
I remind them that they are loved.
I send cards, flowers, gifts and texts, lots of little reminders that they are loved.
I also help in practical ways. Be that cooking meals, hanging washing, looking after children, washing dishes, etc. This practical help is important not just for the person suffering but for their family members too.
And don’t forget sometimes just keeping company with someone who feels miserable, shows them that they are loved and valued, even though they feel like crap.
As a person of faith, prayer for me is natural when I am worried about someone.
But it is important in these situations, that it’s not just a flippant “I’ll pray for you”, but actually asking, “what in particular would you like me to pray for?”
I also include myself in those prayers, for the wisdom to say the right words at the right time, and to help in the right way.
I read up about their diagnosis
It is so important to be informed as much as I can, to know what my friend is going through. Not too help them diagnose themselves (there are professionals to do that) but to genuinely try to understand what they are struggling with.
There are many different forms of depression for example, so by having a look at the exact diagnosis has better equipped me to understand and offer appropriate help.
Beyond Blue or the Black Dog Institute are both excellent resources to understand the many different mental health diagnoses.
Finally when my friends do want to talk, I listen. I don’t try to fix them, I don’t try and solve their problem the way that I would. I strive to be a supportive friend and a listening ear. I try to only give advice when it’s asked for. I’m not perfect in this but that’s what I try to do.
Do you have a friend who needs you to walk with them as they journey with a mental health diagnosis? Start by having the conversation and asking “how can I help?”
And if you need to talk to someone please contact
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636