Sunday, September 28, 2014

5 Ways to Support Friends with Mental Health Issues

It's no secret on this blog that I have dealt with depression, suicide, anxiety, and eating issues. If you experience those same issues, you will know what I mean when I say that these issues can take over your mind. For those of you reading in an effort to understand what your loved ones are experiencing, let me try to explain.

When someone experiences suicidal thoughts, for example, the ideas that they are not good enough, not contributing anything to the world, incapable of ever feeling better, etc., take over. Let me assure you that we do not choose these thoughts or feelings, nor can we escape them simply because you say that you love us.

The same is true for depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. The statements that you love us, that we are beautiful, that everything will be fine, and all of the other loving things you say will never fix us. 

I don't emphasize this to be cruel. I simply need you (whether you deal with these problems yourself or are here on behalf of a loved one) to understand that, in the moment of struggle, these statements make no difference. I realize that sounds incredibly harsh, but it's true.

Here's the trick - the idea that a person is worth something must be built up in the times when he/she is not struggling. I read somewhere a piece of advice for people struggling with mental health issues. It read: "Choose to believe what you know to be true, not what you feel in the moment." This only works, though, if there is a set of useful, positive things that you know to be true.

So, Nina, how do I help build up my friend so that she has positive truths to cling to when things get bad?
I am so glad you asked!

  1. Offer sincere compliments consistently.
  2. If the person struggles with something specific - body image, for example - ask if you can help. (Please only do this if you have the time and ability to actually help.) 
  3. Ask for their opinion/help/expertise AND LISTEN. Nothing makes a person feel more worthwhile than someone else needing them.
  4. If you and the person you are helping are people of faith - do Bible studies together. Become accountability partners. Make that faith a part of your regular interactions. A friend with the guts to talk to me on a Biblical level saved my life once - don't underestimate its power.
  5. Most importantly - Be there. Pour a glass of wine. Talk about the days you've had. Mental health support is often as simple as just listening.