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.