Guest post by Rachel H: How To Support Me
Mental health problems are incredibly scary for those who are suffering from them first hand, but can be just as scary for those with friends or family suffering from them. Or maybe you’re like me, a brilliantly wonderful human being with a history of poor mental health who also has brilliantly wonderful friends with histories of poor mental health. The double whammy of scared. But being a friend to someone who is struggling with their mental health doesn’t have to be scary, regardless of whether you suffer yourself or are living in a blissful existence of good mental health. Let me share with you the pearls of wisdom I have scavenged from those who have been friends to me and from me learning how to be a friend to others.
People going through a period of bad mental health need to do the same things that you do. Buy food, pay bills, do laundry, make sure all of Nigella Lawson’s upcoming cooking programmes are recorded. You know how it is. When I was going through a particularly bad bout of depression a few years ago my best friend Emily used to pick me up and take me with her on her weekly food shop to make sure I had food in the house. If that was too much she would come over with food and put it on a plate and stare at me until I ate it. She’s done my washing up for me when I couldn’t get out of bed, driven me to doctors/counselling appointments, sat with me whilst I’ve done varying university assignments that made me feel like I was climbing Mt Everest. Your kindness, love and empathy is so appreciated, but sometimes what we really need is for someone to come over, put a wash on, sit us down in front of whatever bill/essay/form we have been avoiding and make us a chorizo and chickpea stew whilst we complete it. And then go watch and episode of Nigella.
As previously mentioned I have had my fair share of mental health problems. Social anxiety, depressive episodes, suicidal tendencies, over eating, a 3 year stint of self harming, the list goes on. If I was playing mental health bingo my chances of being the first to gleefully yell BINGO across the room is pretty up there. Something I have learnt the hard way about being a support network to someone else suffering with their mental health is that I am no good at being a friend to someone unless I am running on good vibes myself. And the same goes to you. Do what you can, but don’t do more. Ignoring your empty tank is not going to help someone else fill up their tank, for you’re both out of fuel! Take some time off if you need and please remember that that in no way means you are failing your friend. Your friend will know that you care and will care about your wellbeing in return. They may just be in too much of a bad mental health haze to express that at the time.
No. It is not. This is something I have learnt from trying to do myself and it ending badly, everyone does it, but it’s not what we need. You’re not our GP or our therapist, you are our very dearly beloved good friend and we are not looking for medical advice from you. One thing I adore about my group of friends is the lack of advice they give me. They do not respond to me telling them I’ve had a bad day by saying ‘have you tried exercising more/removing gluten from your diet/sacrificing a virgin badger at the break of dawn on a fire made from the drafts of your dissertation’. They don’t tell me that I ‘have nothing to be sad about/should just cheer up/other people have it worse than me’ in an attempt to rid me of my current mental health problem. They just listen. Then they tell me that they love me, that I have nothing to ashamed of when it comes to my mental health and that they’re available for more listening if I want it, and that I’m great. And then they give me some cake. Because cake is also great.