Discovering one of your closest friends has a mental illness is no easy piece of news. I was horrified. So much had changed.
I have always felt a responsibility to my friends. This was by choice, although I doubt I could sleep if I didn’t; it was my duty as his close friend to help him through it and I felt guilty for not noticing his illness. I came to understand that he hid it as best he could but it didn’t stop all the guilt of somehow missing the horror one of your closest friends was going through.
Worried sick was an understatement. I suddenly realised that the chirpy, fun-loving “adopted brother” I could joke with was battling his mind for happiness and primary functions and felt like he was failing. I knew about people with depression, and had somebody else very close to me years back who suffered (let’s call him Jo), but I knew early on Jo suffered with depression and took on this close friendship already planning to help him. I was not prepared for Alex’s revelation and I felt lost with how to help him. Just letting him get on with it and coming to me when he needed was not something I was willing to do – I wanted to actively help, I just didn’t know how. Telling someone with a mental illness, “It’ll be okay! I genuinely believe you’ll get better!” doesn’t always cut it as they may be incapable of trusting you. It’s not something that comes down to a bond of friendship. They’re trapped in a mind that won’t let them believe they’ll get through it. Try convincing someone they can walk through a brick wall. I needed to find some other way of supporting him. So, what did I do?
People going through depression often feel worthless and like they’re a burden on their friends. They won’t see what you see in them and will believe they’re wasting your time. They don’t feel safe.
My initial advice was to seek help from his GP. This was no state of living and I admitted that I thought it was bad enough that he may well need medication. If functioning properly was proving impossible or too hard, medicine may regulate his life for him.
I found that reminding him periodically that I loved him and would always stand by him gave him some relief. Talking to him every day if I could let him know that he wasn’t alone, even if he felt alone. When something reminded me of him, I’d message him so he knew he was in my thoughts. That helped him. He had a safe friendship. Knowing he was in someone’s thoughts without having to message them to assert his presence was good for him. I would suggest meeting up in town or coming over to my flat for gaming or a movie. All these things just sounded like a regular thing that you would do with your friends, but here’s the difference: someone who doesn’t suffer from this mental illness is fine not talking for a week, a month, or longer, but someone with depression won’t feel that safety net – to them, they’re of no significance, so why would they expect a message or to reach out to you? Sometimes they will, don’t get me wrong, but if you want to support that person you need to make the effort because you know they are worth it. Go and remind them. Don’t give them more chance to question it. They may not be in the right state of mind to go out, or cancel last minute because they can’t bring themselves to move or just want to hide. Tell them no it’s okay! They can’t bring themselves to go with your plan, so they probably feel even worse for letting you down. Tell them it’s okay. It’s about them and you can see them another time. Reassuring them it’s okay to hide away is just as important as making the effort to talk and meet up. Give them that safety net.
Blades. Cutting can be a key coping mechanism for someone with a mental health illness. Some have done it for attention but sometimes it’s their only outlet. One of the most important things I ever did, and I can’t stress this enough, was reassure him that I was never disappointed or annoyed with him for self-harming. I understood that he had needed to do it, even if he was disappointed in himself, and I was there to help him prevent it or to talk to if he had already done it. It can be incredibly hard not to tell someone off for it when you care about them so much, but that can install an aversion in them to telling you rather than seeking your comfort or company. I trusted him that if he did it, he was left with no other choice in his mind and I wanted him to feel safe when talking to me.
You may not know how to help your friend or loved one with depression, but my advice is just ask them. One of the best things can be to ask them how you can help them. I had Alex telling me how a couple of people tried to help and they had it all wrong. I could see why they did what they did, but he told me why it was no use so he didn’t bother going back to them. You may feel nervous about asking them what they need but they probably feel even more nervous turning to you because they don’t think they’re worth the hassle.
A few questions such as, “What do you feel?” and “How can I help you?” could go a long way to someone getting the support they need.
It’s all about their safety zone. Make sure you’re doing right by them and take your time to talk to them.
If you are interested in reading more of Ara’s work, check out her blog at http://nest-of-the-robin.blogspot.co.uk/ or get in touch with her on her Facebook page.
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