During University I had friends who lived with anxiety and depression and I had no idea how to help. I didn’t understand mental illness and I’m ashamed to say I often asked why they just couldn’t get over it. I was fortunate to never have struggled with anxiety at this stage, but now that I have and I continue to live with my mental illness I would like to use my experience to help explain to others what they can do to help.
Yes you may be sat there going “Of course I listen? That’s so obvious.” However, it is so important to just sit and listen. Sometimes people living with a mental illness just need to get some things off their chest or they just need to tell a living soul what is happening with them. Once I had told one person I had been diagnosed with depression it soon got easier and easier to be more open about my mental illness and friends and loved ones were happy just to sit and listen – which meant a hell of a lot to me.
Don’t offer ‘solutions’, offer help
A common misconception of a mental illness is that it is something that can be ‘fixed’. Often I have been asked why after going on anti-depressants and running more how I can still have my bad days… Depression and Anxiety won’t just go away and we often can live with a mental illness for a very long time.
I believe mental illness and grief are very similar in the way that those feelings don’t go away, but they are manageable and you can live with them both. It just takes time.
You can ask someone how you can help before you start offering advice or solutions, as even though your heart is in the right place it can make someone feel even smaller if you are saying ‘well have you tried this or that’.
Spend time with them
When I know a loved one is struggling I now take them for a walk – fresh air can do wonders. It won’t take their problems away but it can encourage an open discussion as there isn’t that pressure of facing someone across from the table when you are walking side by side – this encourages people to open up more.
You could sit down and watch TV with them – it sounds like very little effort but sometimes people who are feeling low just like company and a good TV show.
Try to encourage self-care
Now this doesn’t mean making them put on a face-mask and blasting ‘Always look on the bright side of life’. Self-care can be:
– having a shower
– wiping their face with a flannel
– treating them to their favourite food
There are lots more suggestions from our #SelfcareSeptember campaign on our instagram.
Help them set achievable goals
When I was supporting a friend who was going through a bad break up I made sure to work with them to set some small achievable goals that would help them feel motivated to keep going. This could be leaving the bedroom, having a shower, going for a walk around the block which can then lead to a walk to the local shops/park. Recovery takes time and it’s important to set realistic goals and not do too much too soon.
Recommend professional help
You are not a counsellor, you are a friend and a friend can only do so much. It’s time to recommend a professional – this could be therapy, referring them to a local GP – they need professional and medical help as well as your love and support.
There are lots of charities and organisations set up to help alongside the NHS, including ECBC – you can see a full list of these organisations here.
I really hope this has helped, please remember to take care of your own mental health as well as helping a loved one. We can only take on so much.
Lots of love Emma x