Supporting Friends Througn Mental Illness

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With 1 in 4 people in the UK being diagnosed with a mental illness it is very likely that a friend or family member could be one of these people.  It can be hard to know how to help when you hear of someone getting diagnosed with depression which affects around 300 million people, or anxiety, two of the biggest mental illnesses in the Uk, or any other mental health illness, a lot of what is written on the internet is about how the person affected can help themselves, the types of medical help that are available or guidance notes for employers to follow.

I have been through a diagnosis of mental illness and had 6 months away from work with anxiety and depression coupled with stress, and I am still recovering so the following post is about how you can support friends through mental illness based on the things that helped me.

  • Let them know you are there for them. Just hearing the words “I’m always here for you” and knowing that it is meant was a big support for me.
  • Don’t ask “How are you?” as many people will answer with a generic “I’m fine.” Instead, ask how they are feeling. I have a friend who always sends me a text to ask how I am feeling and it has always given me the opportunity to really talk about my feelings, sometimes being able to share those things is easier with a direct question.
  • Ask what you can do to help. Sometimes the answer may be nothing but other times it could be to run some errands or even just sit and chat.
  • Ask what they would like to do, and have some suggestions for things if they say they don’t want to do anything. My friend would ask me this and I would say nothing a lot of the time as I didn’t want to waste their time, but they would always suggest things like watching a film, cooking some food or playing games on the computer which made me feel good that they wanted to spend time with me.
  • Always remember them in group plans. My friend was brilliant at this, even when I’m sure they knew I would say no.  There really is no worse feeling than friends making plans and not being included.
  • There were times that I didn’t want to talk and there were times when I really needed to let everything out and having someone to just sit and listen was so valuable.
  • Don’t judge. There were times, at the beginning of my mental health illness where I hadn’t done any housework for weeks, I was still in the same pyjamas 3 days down the line, my hair wasn’t brushed or even washed and I felt embarrassed but my friends never judged me or made me feel bad about it.  If you can, do a small task for them, like washing the dishes, sometimes that little gesture helps more than you can imagine.  On one of my bad days where I hadn’t taken a shower for a week or even gotten dressed properly one of my friends came round and sat with me while I took a shower, they picked out some clothes for me to wear then blow-dried my hair for me because everything had felt too huge and overwhelming for me to do myself and those little things made such a difference to my week.

I hope that this guide is useful if you can think of any other ways to help support a friend through mental health illness then let me know in the comments.

The Hidden Effects of Mental Health

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There are now so many prompts to talk about mental health from Time to Talk Day to Mental health Awareness Week where opportunities are given to learn about mental health or talk about mental health from a first-person perspective.  Things that get talked about, often, during these periods are the causes of mental health problems, symptoms, medications that can help, looking after our mental health, spotting signs in friends and family and how to help others.  The stigma attached to mental health is often talked about in great depth but one thing I have found that gets overlooked is the hidden effects of mental health.

So, what are the hidden effects of mental health?

People who have had mental health problems experience the hidden effects, which often go unnoticed.  Some of these things can be

  • Social circle shrinks

When you have mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression, it can be hard to stay in contact with friends, from calling, texting or attending evenings out, and before you know it, friends have drifted away.

  • Being overwhelmed

When my mental health starts to disintegrate, I stop doing things like cleaning my house or doing the washing up or laundry and as I get better, I can feel overwhelmed by all of the tasks that need to be done.  I also experience a sense of overwhelm when I go outside – to the shops, after a period of locking myself away in the house.

  • People treat you differently

Without wanting to, I have found that people’s attitude can change and they start treating you as if you are fragile and will break.  I have experienced this in work, where, even now, I still get concerned looks from my colleagues or do not seem to get to do the same types of work as others in case I cannot cope.

  • Lack of trust

I think that this lack of trust can be linked to people treating you differently, shrinking of social circles and the stigma that is still attached to mental health.  It can be hard to open yourself up to people and to talk about feelings, especially people you may not know very well.

  • Feeling trapped in a cycle

I often wonder if I will ever be well enough to be medication free or if I will have to rely on my tablets to keep me functioning at a level forever.  Sometimes it feels like I am stuck in a cycle of requesting my prescription, collecting tablets, taking tablets and doctor’s appointments to monitor my medications.

  • Slowing down

If people have to take medication for mental health there are side effects, which can affect memory and the speed at which we process things or our ability to understand things as easily.  This can be frustrating as we know we should be able to understand, remember or process things easily.

I can only write from my own experiences, though I do know, from conversations that I have had, that there are other effects that having mental health problems which all have a different impact on us.

Have you had any effects caused by having mental health problems?  I’d love to chat about your experiences in the comments.