Advice on supporting friends with mental ill health

This past month, I failed to recognise my friend’s mental health issues. Even though I knew she was suffering, I did not know how to approach her about it, which led to me misunderstanding some of her actions and making the problem worse. If you know your friend is struggling, it’s important to not be hesitant or wait to act. They might need your help more than you may know. Here are some ways you can help a friend who is suffering from mental health issues, for readers who do not necessarily struggle themselves.

Talking to your friend about how they are feeling is the first step to take in supporting them. When you do, let them talk about as much or as little as they want and don’t pressure them into talking about an issue that they’re not ready to discuss. You do not have to agree; just try to be open-minded and not make assumptions about their feelings.

It is also important to know that your role is not to provide a solution to their problem or to try and provide a diagnosis. Sometimes it helps looking at their mental health issue like you would a physical illness. For example, if your friend was suffering from the flu you would likely cut them some slack because their suffering is physically obvious. In this sense, try to remember that some of their actions should not be attributed to their overall character.

Listening is a big part of providing support, but so is being there for struggling individuals. My friend told me, she finds it helpful when people distract her with fun or mundane things to do, such as going on a walk, making a meal, encouraging her to work out, go to the library or watch a movie. Distraction is not about dismissing your friend’s issues, it is about giving them a break from it and showing them that you want to help and that you are there for them.

If the situation calls for it, help your friend understand that sometimes professional support is needed. Make sure you approach this wisely, and present it in a way that makes it less intimidating than it may appear.

When someone is struggling, it can often be difficult to figure out what resources are available, so assisting your friend with this can be invaluable.

For support offered by the university, visit the Edinburgh University Students’ Association website, which provides information about the services offered including the Advice Place and the Student Counselling Service among others.

image: Henk Kosters via flickr

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