August 1 marks Friendship Day, a day dedicated to cherishing the people we choose to surround ourselves with. Friends are meant to be like a pillar of support and are always there beside you, no matter what. When a friend or loved one is dealing with mental health problems, you may be at a loss for words. While you would want to offer comfort you are also worried about how your words will be interpreted and what effect they might have. This guide consists of a list of ways in which you can navigate the problem and help your friend feel accepted and appreciated.
People facing mental health issues often struggle with loneliness. As a friend, reach out to them from time to time. Engage in conversations and make plans with them. Do not let them feel excluded and make it a point to call or text them every week. Simple gestures like these could mean a lot to someone else and have the potential to ease their worries. If your friend is taking therapy, check in with them after their sessions. In the end, it is all about letting them know that you are there.
Let them talk
When you engage in a conversation, provide them an open and non-judgemental space with minimal distractions. Instead of shooting random questions, let them share their feelings and express themselves. Try to ensure that they feel safe while talking to you and that they can freely address their problems. Talk therapy helps people explore their feelings simply by talking about them but you must remember not to diagnose their condition without a proper understanding of the symptoms.
Be a good listener
You might not be able to reciprocate their feelings and that is perfectly alright. In order to ensure that they do not feel alienated, repeat what they have said. This would also help you ensure that you have understood what they meant. You do not have to agree with everything they are saying, but by showing you understand, you are letting them know you respect their feelings. It may be difficult for you to relate but little steps, like providing undivided attention and trying to comprehend what they are saying, go a long way.
Offer them ways to seek professional support
It is crucial for you to direct your friend in the right direction. Once they trust you with their struggles, try to gently steer them towards professional support. Do not second guess their conditions or extend the wrong help. Share the contact details of organizations or people who can help them beyond listening. You can also offer to accompany them, if they are okay with the idea, or help them open up to a family member. Try not to take control and let them make their own decisions.
Know your boundaries
You are a friend, not a professional. Do not enforce your beliefs on them and let them proceed with the conversation at their own pace. Do not pressurize them to share anything they are not ready to talk about. Talking can take a lot of courage, so appreciate the little step they have taken instead of pushing for more. Setting boundaries would also help in maintaining a healthy relationship as it retains the trust factor. Remember, a good friend would always be there but would never try to overstep their limits.
Written by: Maisha Islam