I think we’re all very aware of just how common mental health problems are, with 1 in 4 of us experiencing at least one diagnosable mental health problem in Britain each year. That’s a LOT of people. But whilst the space to talk about it has opened up hugely in the last few years, being open and accepting of it doesn’t necessarily mean that we understand it or know what to say or how to help people who are suffering. If you haven’t struggled with it yourself, or haven’t experienced it to the same degree as someone you love, it can be really hard knowing what to say or do for the best, and I know how helpless you can feel watching on without feeling like you can do anything to make it better.
For this reason I thought I’d share five things you can do for someone in this situation…I don’t claim to be any kind of mental health expert, and there is so much I am learning all the time. What I am though is someone who has experienced anxiety and depression themselves, and someone who has supported friends going through it. If you read my blog about anxiety back in March, you’ll know that it has been fairly prevalent in my life this year, and honestly it’s because I’ve been so overwhelmed by the love and support from my friends and family that I wanted to write this post.
1. Talk about other things
I think we can often feel bad for talking about other things when someone is going through a hard time, but sometimes distraction is the loveliest thing! Honestly, discussing stuff as meaningless as trashy TV can be so nice for someone who’s drained from talking about their feelings. And just because your friend is sick doesn’t mean they don’t want to hear about the silly thing your cat did last night, or the new dish you cooked for tea, or the holiday you’ve just booked. Whilst of course it’s not cool to talk about yourself the whole time (as in any situation let’s be fair), don’t feel like you have to minimise your happiness or achievements out of worry for your friend – they still want all this stuff for you! Knowing that there’s the space to talk about the serious things if they need to, but not feeling like it’s a requirement, can be such a relief for someone who’s struggling.
2. Don’t try to fix it
This is a really easy trap to fall into, because naturally you want to fix the problem and see your friend better! Whilst it’s coming from a good place, the truth is that you can’t fix it, and it can be really unhelpful to ask questions like “what are you going to do” or start giving out advice on what you think they should do, however well meant. Your friend needs a listening ear, not a pep talk, and by all means encourage them to see a professional (talking therapy and CBT can be profoundly helpful) but remember that you are not one. Keep supporting your friend but take a little pressure off yourself that this isn’t on you to sort!
3. Make plans
Having things to look forward to is a mood booster for all of us, never mind whether we’re well or not! Plan something fun in with your friend that you both enjoy doing – it could be as simple as going for a coffee or a walk but that bit of quality time on the horizon can be so helpful, and showing how much you want to spend time with someone whatever their mood, can be enormously comforting. Be sensitive to their needs – they might not want a boozy brunch or a night out – so think about what they’d like to do rather than maybe the default activities your gang would usually get together for, and above all, be clear with the arrangements, because any flakiness can be horrible for someone already feeling anxious. Most importantly just get together and have fun.
4. Send surprise post
Some people might worry that material things are a bit trivial in the face of deep pain, but honestly I disagree. We’re not talking about saving the world here; we’re talking about small stuff that makes each day that bit brighter, and a card or present coming through the door can do just that. There’s something about the process of choosing a card, writing a thoughtful message and going to post it that feels so much more personal than a text. A few kind words can go a long way, and I think particularly if you’re far away, can be a really nice way of sending a virtual hug!
Sidenote: if you’re stuck for ideas on what to send or find it tricky to get to the Post Office, there’s a really good Prince’s Trust company who specialise in this, called Bear Hugs Gifts. They are all about helping you find that special something to brighten someone’s day, with gift boxes for all budgets. A pal and I ordered one for our friend who was going through a hard time and she loved it.
5. Look after YOU
Remember how important your own mental health is, because it’s so easy to burn yourself out helping someone else. You need to give yourself the love and self-care you want for them, and the better you feel in yourself, the more you’ll be coming from a place where you can help! I’m not saying we need to be 100% happy to support other people – we all have our own stuff going on – but just remember to keep checking in on yourself and to reach out for your own support.
Lastly, please remember that just by being you, you are already doing so much. I know how frustrating it can be, not knowing what to say or feeling like you can’t help the way you’d like to, but your friend knowing that you’re there for them will already be a huge comfort. And they’re not expecting you to fix it! Knowing they have your support is everything.
I so hope this post has been helpful and I would love to hear your thoughts on supporting loved ones struggling with their mental health, or on being supported by others. I’ve listed a few resources below that might be helpful.
Charity proving advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem.
The charity that provides a 24/7 free phone line for people who need to talk to someone (116 123 in the UK).
Online CBT treatment for people feeling stressed, depressed or anxious.