One of the most difficult parts of life is watching a loved one struggle with their mental health. You may feel helpless a lot of the time, at a loss for words, and unsure what to do to assist your friend. Our friends rely on us to be there for them in both the good and bad times. Friendship is a two-way street that requires emotional support from both people, but sometimes one friend needs more support than the other because of what they’re going through. While you may be new to this situation, you aren’t alone. There are many steps you can take to Support a Friend Who Struggles With Mental Health and be there for your friend and help them through their difficult time.
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
If you were the one coming to your friend for help, how would you expect or want them to react? This can be the simplest way to figure out how to respond to your friend. Most of the time, people just need to know they’re not alone. They want to know there are people that will stick by them, be there for them, and who still love them. Ask yourself what you’d need to hear from a trusted, close friend if the tables were turned. As long as you are expressing love, empathy, and care, it’ll be hard to say the wrong thing.
Refer Them to a Counselor
Sometimes problems are too large for friends and family members to provide enough support. In this case, going to see a qualified mental health professional may be the best option. A good counselor will provide their client with more than just generic answers to personal questions, so rest assured your friend will be in good hands. Sometimes people need an extra push to go see a professional, which is where you can be helpful. Encourage your friend by telling them you really want to see them happy again. You can even offer to drive them to therapy and pick them up afterward if that would make it easier for them. You may also consider offering to help them search online to find the therapist that would be best for them.
Encourage Them to Open Up
Some people will be very open about what they’re going through, while others will be closed off. One of the most important things when it comes to mental health is talking through what’s on your mind, so you should encourage your friend to do so without being pushy. If your friend finds it too difficult to be open with you, that is when you should encourage them to talk to someone else, such as a therapist. Make yourself available and trustworthy so that if your friend changes their mind, they feel comfortable coming to talk with you. If they do open up to you, make sure to keep the conversation between the two of you unless either one of you is in danger. This will help protect the trust between you and your friend and make it more likely they’ll keep coming back to talk through life with you.
When someone is struggling with their mental health, it’s common for their focus to be entirely on how they feel. They may shut you out without even realizing it. Offer to help your friend with everyday tasks that may feel too difficult for them to complete such as cooking, laundry, or cleaning. You should also try and invite them along for everyday tasks like grocery shopping, just to take their mind off of things for a bit. Never assume they don’t want to be included in events like game nights anymore—continue to invite them and hope they show up. Be persistent without being pushy if they deny your invitations. It’s better for them to be with others than alone with their thoughts.
The most important thing to remember if you have a friend struggling with their mental health is that they should be treated with empathy, compassion, and care. If they come to you expressing their struggles, take it as a sign that they trust you. Do your best to listen to them nonjudgmentally and express both encouragement and care in return. Be patient and don’t try to fix them all by yourself. Never compare their experiences to someone else’s and keep in mind that their words and actions are more likely a result of their mental health and not something to take personally. If you’re ever unsure what to say or do to help, it never hurts to ask. Simply ask how you can best support them through this time or what you can do to make them feel less alone. It’s also important to practice your own self-care and establish boundaries. You can only pour into someone else’s life if you are first taking care of yourself. No one can pour from an empty cup. Never be afraid to ask for help if you find yourself needing it too.