It’s time once again to inject mental health into our conversations: May is Mental Health Month! Mental Health America (MHA) is committed to promoting mental health as a critical part of overall wellness. Me too! We all have mental health and we need to talk about it. Click HERE for Mental Health America’s full mental health toolkit for May. Click HERE to reach the main Mental Health America website.
For winners of the survey contest I hosted see below!
Tips to help a friend
According to MHA, current statics indicate that 1 in 5 adults will have a diagnosable mental health condition in any given year. That equates to tens of millions of people. Soon these stats will be modified to reflect the last couple of years of challenges with politics, violence, and the effects of a pandemic. What does that mean? It mean millions more people of all ages seeking support and assistance for the symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental health conditions. A sobering thought.
People diagnosed with mental health conditions aren’t the only ones who need support. Each diagnosis ripples outward to touch the lives of family, friends, coworkers, and our communities. In this way, the number of people affected by mental health diagnoses becomes astronomical. We can’t afford to bury our heads in the sand. I know because I was one such person, caught in a ripple and unsure how to ride the waves.
When my daughter was diagnosed with depression, I was terrified–convinced that no one could understand what we were going through. There’s some truth to that. Unless you’ve traveled in someone’s shoes it’s almost impossible to know exactly how they feel or what they’re experiencing. Compounding matters is stigma and judgment. I didn’t want to “out” my daughter, and I didn’t want people to offer unsolicited advice or to make assumptions. I didn’t want my family to be treated differently. I didn’t want to be judged. I was already judging myself, and harshly.
Don’t be afraid
Straight away, after my daughter started therapy, I did too. Eventually, I also found a safe community in classes and advocacy work for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI.) I realized I wasn’t alone. I realized I could have benefited early on from a trusted shoulder, someone special outside the family unit with whom to share my feelings and thoughts. I realized I was living proof of the power of the words, “Me too.”
Eight years into my family’s healing journey, we’re more dedicated than ever to talking about mental health. I’m passionately dedicated to supporting mothers in sharing their stories, to break the myth that moms shouldn’t speak candidly about all facets of life. How can we give or receive support if we aren’t honest about the full range of experience?
Here are eight tips I learned about how to be a friend to someone in need, whose loved one is struggling with a mental health condition. Learned by being the person in need. What I wished I’d had the courage and vulnerability to say when I most needed support.
- Open your mouth: Have you noticed a bestie acting differently? Is she distracted? Out of sorts? Withdrawn? Teary-eyed? It might feel scary to ask about something so personal or if something mental-health related is going on, but it’s worth the risk if you can be there to lend an ear. Your friend will appreciate the support more than you know.
- Respect the answer: Any number of reasons like feeling responsible, fear, fatigue, embarrassment, shame, and confusion can prevent someone from opening up. Keep gently showing up for your friend. Be present. Ask to go for a walk or to grab a cup of coffee. These small acts can be deeply meaningful and healing.
- Listen: When your friend is ready to share it’s time to close your mouth. One natural inclination is to jump into fix-it mode. Not helpful! Neither is making armchair medical comments, “have you trieds,” or peppering her with questions she doesn’t know the answer to. Avoid all temptations to judge, including saying, “I’m so sorry.” This is tough, I know. We mean it. We are sorry. But sorry is it’s own form of judgment. Replace these go-tos with a simple, “You’re not alone. I’m here for you.” Ask if there’s anything you can do to help. Run an errand maybe, or send a small bouquet of flowers, or drop off a casserole.
- Get educated: Buy a book or check out some websites. Arm yourself with a little bit of knowledge to better understand what your friend may be experiencing. She can’t and won’t have the wherewithal to explain it to you. The more you know the more your compassion and empathy will flourish.
- Pack away expectations: Mental health diagnoses are painful and exhausting. It may take your friend and her family a long time to equilibrate. Don’t layer your expectations for their healing and the pursuant pressure into your friendship. She has enough to deal with and no guidebook exists for traversing the pitfalls of recovery.
- Stay in your lane: When a family is in the throes of a crisis, your friend has no bandwidth to hear about normal trials and tribulations. Can’t find the perfect prom dress for your kid? Husband bugging you? Need a vacation from your nagging boss? Share these tidbits with someone else.
- Be the ballast: At some point your friend will be overwhelmed. She may say, “I can’t do this.” Remind her: “You can, and I’m here for you.” Give her hug. Hold her up when she can’t hold herself up. She’ll be happy to return the favor when she can.
- Privacy above all: Don’t do or say anything to anyone to break the trust your friend has placed in you.
Mental health conditions aren’t contagious. Friendship–relationship–is one of the best tools to aid in recovery. That’s your superpower. Don’t be afraid to use it.
President Biden issued a proclamation for National Mental Health Month. Let’s hope he helps us achieve what it proposes. You can read it HERE. You can read the State of Mental Health in America, via MHA, HERE.
Additional resources for friends and family can be found on MentalHealth.gov, HERE.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Announcing Survey Winners:
Starbuck’s gift card: Maureen Custer
Original artwork: Joan Sherwood
And a deep felt thank you to everyone who took the survey!