Helping Friends with Mental Illness

Helping Friends with Mental Illness

Emily Bach is a regular writer and creator from Washington, DC.

From anxiety to depression, the specifics of how to treat those with mental illness’ vary greatly. Though “mental illness” is quite the blanket term, it accurately encapsulates a group that, particularly as teenagers, is incredibly prevalent in society. For this reason, it’s vital that we, both as friends and as human beings, learn how to best help those with mental illnesses.

Primarily, it’s important to understand that as a friend, you are a part of a system, but should not be the only support. Anyone dealing with mental illness, regardless of their home situation, should get help if they can. In some cases, this may require you reaching beyond what your friend had originally asked you to do, and telling a trusted adult about his or her struggles. Yes, this is incredibly intimidating, and can often feel like you are doing the wrong thing, but know that recovery is best aided and guided by a professional.

Additionally, you need to recognize that there are good days and bad days in recovery. Regardless of the person, it is not a static or “straight up” process. The same way good days don’t indicate a full recovery, bad days don’t indicate collapse. But, your friend will need you to be there, whether physically or emotionally, on both. In some cases this can mean talking to them for hours, and in others it can simply be sending them a text. Whichever works for them, making an effort to show you’re there and you care is often the best way to help your friend.

Similarly, something else you can do as a friend to take your friend’s mind off their illness momentarily. You should ensure there is an open door of communication, but don’t allow yourself to get bogged down in discussing it all of the time. Have a girls night in, talk about what’s going on in your life, or even just go to sports practice. Often the best escape from what’s happening is to temporarily forget about it. Allow me to note, that does not, under any circumstances, include using alcohol or drugs. Studies have continually proven this only furthers the issue, and numbs pain that needs to exist for healing. But, if your friend is far enough down the recovery path that their therapist feels it’s appropriate, having fun in other ways can be a good way to help.

Finally, advocating for your friend to others is incredibly important, particularly in the beginning stages of recovery. As I mentioned before, recovery is a messy and difficult path. This can result in periodic mood swings, aggression and a long list of other consequences. For this reason, it’s often easy for those unaware of mental illness to fight back, or even end friendships. Though it’s likely not a good idea to tell other teenagers about an issue your friend does not want you sharing, asking others to cut him/her some slack is likely the best course of action in situations like these.

Disclaimer: I am in no way a professional in this field, and strongly urge anyone interested in this topic to do further research themselves. However, through my studies in and outside of school, as well as my interactions with others in this community, I have a fairly strong grasp on the correct and incorrect way to treat others that struggle with issues of mental health. Also, please note that this article is in no way equal to scientifically published papers, but is a good starting point and “mythbuster” so to speak for readers.

Art by Ashley Lukashevsky, or @ashlukadraws on Instagram.

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