How to help your friends struggling with mental illness

Supporting The Mentally Ill Is More Than Sharing A List Of Things To Live For

The next time you want to comfort them, don't tell them what they need to do; ask what they need.

Depression is something I've struggled with for many years, and that's exactly what it is—a struggle. In light of mental health, I've also seen a lot of pieces aimed at those who are contemplating taking their own life. I'm here to say, though, that making a list of pretty flowers and people to feel guilty about leaving behind isn't going to talk your close friends off of a ledge. If anything, you may be unknowingly driving them to it.

Thankfully, I haven't been in a place where I've tried to take my own life. One of the biggest parts of keeping me from that dark place has been being vocal about my feelings and struggles. I have, however, been in situations where I contemplate what the purpose of life is. You can easily ask this question of others and get a variety of the same few answers: religion, what would my friends and family do when I'm gone, etc. I think it's really easy to tell someone they should back off of that ledge, but I think that many of the reasons we give our loved ones for living are selfish ones. If they have reached the point where they believe that is their only option, they've probably gone through the various consequences in their head and telling them they won't get to see sunflowers isn't going to change their minds.

I realize that this sounds really cynical, but from my own personal experience, I think that there are other, better ways that you can help your loved ones who are struggling. One of the biggest ways you can help them is by noticing signs early. If they aren't keeping regular eating habits, are staying in bed all day, seem to have trouble focusing and keeping conversations, or any other common symptom, it may be your loved one's non-vocal way of showing that something isn't right. What you shouldn't do in this case, though, is talk to them about what they need to do. Don't tell them they need to go get some exercise, eat better food, and be happier. That's the goal, and it's hard enough to accomplish it without outside pressure. In my case, I also don't like when other people try to sympathize with what I'm going through. Don't try to make my problems seem less significant because you've also been "really sad sometimes." Each person is different though, so the biggest help is in just getting to know what your loved one needs from you.

This might sound like I'm telling you not to try to help, but that's not what I'm saying at all. I'm just saying that there are more subtle ways of doing things. For me, I feel better when I can spend time with other people, but without the pressures of social outings. If your friend has been stuck in bed all day, maybe ask if they want to watch their favorite movie. You can even bring the movie to them, and maybe open a blind or two while you're at it. It's the baby steps and knowing that there are people that care for you that help more than anything. Rather than tell a loved one that they need to exercise, maybe suggest going on a walk at a secluded park where they don't have to worry about facing other people. Don't push too hard, because I promise, they're already beating themselves up enough about not being able to get out of bed or eat more than a couple of bites of a granola bar.

Depression takes many forms, and it can suck the life out of the most vibrant people. While medication is very helpful to some people, it isn't always the only answer. Nine times out of ten, individuals suffering from depression need a strong and patient support system to show them love and, may I emphasize again, patience throughout their struggles. Fighting your own mind is harder than fighting any opponent, and I would say that those that live with any mental health issues are well aware of this.

So, while we appreciate you showing us a list of 50 things we'll miss out on if we die now, it's not those 50 things that are keeping us here. It's the fact that you kept us in mind and dropped in with a little reminder of your presence in our lives. We may not be the easiest to love at times, but you doing your best to help us do our best, is a worth more than any drug a doctor could prescribe and we thank you for your commitment to us.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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