My friend hasn’t been herself lately. Usually I hear from her every couple days and see her on the weekends—but lately? No response to my texts. No plans made. No real sign that she’s ever existed. Okay, that’s dramatic. The pictures on my wall, the memories engrained in my mind, and her weekly social media updates prove her existence. But she’s not the same Ali… she’s distant, withdrawn, empty, absent. And I miss her.
Ali was diagnosed with both anxiety and depression a few years ago. She’s since learned to talk about her feelings and manage her panic attacks; she knows how important it is to cope with stress properly and embrace the support of her loved ones. But she also goes through rough patches… a bad memory sets her back; her medication fails to provide relief; or the negative thoughts take over. In any such case, she shuts everyone out. She falls off the face of the earth and leaves everyone wondering: Where’s Ali? Is she okay? Is she just busy… or should I be concerned?
My own insecurities led me to believe that Ali was too busy to respond to my messages or make plans to see me. But a few days ago, it became clear that wasn’t the case. She sent me a text that read: “I don’t really want to talk about it, but I just wanted someone to know that I’m really sad, depressed, and anxious. And I don’t know how to fix it anymore.”
Show That You Care
When I opened that brief message from Ali, my heart stopped. I immediately regretted those assumptions that everything was okay and that she was probably just busy. Even more so, I regretted not reminding her I was there… just in case everything was not okay. If you have a friend with a mental illness and have made the same mistake, forgive yourself. But moving forward, know just how important it is to show your love and your support for your friend who might be feeling pretty hopeless right now.
“One common denominator I have seen in my own personal struggles with different forms of mental illness, and in my experiences as a therapist, is a sense of hopelessness,” explains Elle Bernfeld, Licensed Master Social Worker. “The connecting thread to many, if not all, struggles with mental illness is the feeling of being so overwhelmed with emotion that one cannot figure out how to survive. It can lead to thoughts of dying, compulsive exercising, anxiety without much rationale, and much more. I know that is true for me and for many others. Nothing makes one feel more hopeless than the thought that no one understands, and even worse, no one cares. Sometimes when our pain, our fear, our dread is so intense, we cannot see other people caring. Sometimes we get caught up in ourselves, and push others away, making the situation worse.
So, with that said, an unfortunate common misconception is thinking that someone with mental illness does not need you, or assuming that they know you are there for them. It is not easy to make someone struggling with mental illness feel love and supported, but it is certainly worth a try. That sentiment is what lead me to being a therapist, being a person there for someone else. I might not always be successful, but I try. It is worth it to be kind.”
Provide Steadfast Support: 5 Tips
You can’t cure your friend of their illness—but you can provide them with steadfast support. As Bernfeld explained, the best thing you can do is show your friend that you’re there and that you love and care for them. Here are five ways to show your support:
1) Lend a listening ear.
Perhaps the best thing you can do for your friend is listen to them vent, cry, complain, or just talk about how they’re feeling. Oftentimes, they keep all of their emotions bottled up inside, which can worsen the effects of their illness and send them into a downward spiral. So don’t just welcome them to talk about their feelings, encourage them to.
2) Lift them up.
A simple compliment or uplifting message can go a long way. When my friend told me she was feeling overwhelmed by her depression and anxiety, I sent her a funny meme that I knew she’d laugh at, as well as an inspiring poem that I knew would build her up. Show your friend that you’re thinking about them and lift them up any chance you get.
3) Ask what you can do to help.
Instead of assuming that you can’t help or assuming how you can help, ask them what they’d like you to do. Some people are hesitant to accept or request favors, but your loving insistence should do the trick. And they’ll reveal what they really could use from you.
4) Help them adopt a healthy lifestyle.
You can also help them by encouraging a healthy lifestyle. Invite them to go to the gym with you; talk to them about how beneficial journaling is; find a healthy recipe and ask them if they’d like to come over for dinner. Help them take care of their mental health by helping them live a healthy life!
5) Encourage them to seek help.
And finally, if your friend hasn’t already sought help, encourage them to do so. Therapy is designed to help individuals with a variety of issues, including mental illness. They may be hesitant to schedule a session, but they’ll be so glad they did.