A bunch of mental health campaigns at the moment are focusing on the need for people to check in with their friends, to ask them how they are and that’s really good. The necessity comes from the fact that we often get caught up with our own lives and do not always want to hear about other people. However, I want to stress that when living with a mental illness you often need much more from friends and family. Sometimes I need more than you just asking me if I’m okay. If you feel like checking in with friends is all you can manage then that’s fine but do more if you can. So here’s a run down of some things you can do to support someone experiencing mental health struggles.
Stick around when things get ugly.
Mental illness is not plain sailing and straight forward. It’s not easy to be there for someone who is trying to push you away. It’s not easy knowing what to say when someone you care about has just tried to kill themselves. But, it’s even harder to go through things alone. I’ve had a lot of ‘friends’ in the past give up on me in times of crisis because they felt helpless or thought that I was ‘too ill’ to help. There is nothing more painful than having people leave because of your behaviour that you know is not you, that you know is caused by your mental illness. I understand that it can be scary to see someone in a really dark place but don’t walk away, they need you even if they say they do not.
The fall outs from my crisis periods have often been more damaging than the crises themselves. The aftermath when I am trying to pick the pieces up and put myself back together is draining and painful. It’s the time when I lean on my friends more than any other. If you want to help, stick around in those deeply horrible times as much as you can.
You wouldn’t leave your friend if they were going through job loss or a break up, don’t walk away when they are in emotional distress caused by mental health.
Use your voice
When you’re not well, it can be impossible to advocate for yourself. Speaking up about what you need and fighting against bigger issues related to mental health can be out of the question. Question people when they use mental illness stereotypes, correct misinformation, sign petitions aimed at fixing the current mental health crisis. Stay informed about what is going on with mental health and be willing to fight on our behalf.
Learn about mental illness
Read about it, ask questions, deepen your own understanding of what your loved one might be going through. This is such a simple thing to do but is so important.
Tell people you love them
With a lot of mental health conditions, particularly BPD, any relationship can be tricky to maintain. Personally, I need constant validation. I hate myself so much that I need to know others do not, I need to hear that you love me/care about me/want to spend time with me/are thinking about me. Some of my best friendships are with those who are not afraid to tell me that they love me because it stops me questioning whether or not they actually like me. Maybe being all open about feelings makes you feel a bit uncomfortable but if you can, tell your friends that you love them. If they are affectionate, hug them or hold their hand, just do little things to remind them that they matter to you.
And yes, ask people how they are
Make it clear that you actually want to know what is going on, ask more questions and listen.
Doing some or all of these things can genuinely make such a huge difference to a person’s self esteem and well being. It’s worth the effort if you really care.