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How to support a friend facing mental health difficulties

It’s fantastic that discussion around mental health is becoming more common and, as a result, resources to help those struggling are increasingly available.

However, conversation about mental health is still new to many of us, and knowing what to say or how to react to someone opening up to you can be difficult. You don’t want to make the situation worse or say the wrong thing, but you do want them to know you’re there for them. Here is some advice on navigating a friendship or relationship with someone having a tough time.

Checking in

It can often be as simple as someone knowing you’re thinking of them. My friends that send me a simple text when they know I’m going through a hard time can help the most. Even better when they check in every few days. Often mental health struggles can be accompanied by a feeling of worthlessness, so it’s just about making sure that the person knows you want them in your life and you care.

Let them know it’s okay

If your friend or partner needs to take time to be by themselves, don’t keep encouraging them to be active or leave the house. Understand that it can take some time for them to feel better, and they might need a day or two in bed. That’s okay! However, if this continues long-term, they may need to seek help.

Understand that you might never understand

If they want to talk about how they’re feeling, trust what they tell you. If you can’t relate to what they’re saying, and think you know what’s best, that can result in them feeling worse. Struggling with mental health can feel completely alienating – it sometimes feels like people don’t understand that it’s not as simple as getting out of bed and getting on with it. Listen to what they say and believe it.

Research!

If they’re really struggling and you want to try to understand as much as possible, it might be worth doing some research. The mental health charity Mind has extremely useful information on their website covering all kinds of mental health needs.

Having an understanding of symptoms can make you more sympathetic to someone’s condition. It may also make you more patient if you recognise that the person is acting in an unusual way.

It’s not down to you to make someone else better 

You shouldn’t ever feel like someone is relying solely on you for support, especially when it comes to something as serious as mental health. Encouraging your friend or partner to seek help is extremely important. On-campus, there’s the Student Wellbeing Centre and the University Health Centre which can both provide support. Furthermore, steps2change is the NHS’s mental health support organisation in Lincolnshire and you can refer yourself via their website.

Steps2change identify the course, group or therapy which suits what a person is going through, and is completely free. They check on your progress and have made a huge difference to me over the past couple of years.

It’s not an easy task taking the time to be there for someone. It’s difficult to see somebody going through a hard time, and it’s worrying when it’s someone you care about. Mental health difficulties don’t just go away overnight. Often, they require patience and understanding. Throughout all this, make sure you look after your own mental health too.