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How to support your friends when they're struggling with their mental health

Knowing how to support a friend who is struggling with their mental health can be tough, especially if we often find ourselves taking on other people's problems as our own. Lily, 22, shares her tips.

This past year, I've been dealing with some difficult circumstances. I've only recently decided to actively make peace with myself and my surroundings, and in the process of healing, I noticed several behaviours I had developed that were stopping me from feeling better. I also noticed the things that made me feel better.

If you notice that your friend’s behaviour is concerning or out of character, or they tell you they are struggling with their mental health, here are some things you can do to help them:

Encourage them to express their feelings

There is nothing wrong with wanting to cry. In fact, crying is helpful as it allows you to express emotions that you may not be comfortable speaking about.

There is also nothing wrong about feeling frustrated with yourself sometimes - it is a normal part of growing as a person - but it does not give you a reason to mercilessly hate on yourself. Instead, as a friend of mine said to me recently, “Not everything is within our control. Slowly take a step back and find what’s stopping you from being kind to yourself.”

Sometimes we find ourselves suppressing what we feel when we realise that someone else may be “going through worse”. Yes, there may be others who are dealing with more difficult or bigger problems than us, but the existence of their struggles does not mean that our struggles are invalid.

This is both a reminder for your friends, as well as yourself: know your own limitations. Placing the wellbeing of others before your own all the time may cloud your judgement and cause you to bury your own feelings. Take the necessary steps to balance caring for your peers with looking after your own mental health.

There may be others who are dealing with more difficult or bigger problems than us, but the existence of their struggles does not mean that our struggles are invalid.

Be present

Sometimes, all we need is someone who is willing to hear us out. We are not always looking for solutions. It can be comforting just knowing that someone cares enough to listen. Remind your friends that there is no shame in speaking openly about what they are going through, whether it be with their loved ones or a mental health professional.

Encourage self-care

A close friend told me this when I shared with her what I’ve been feeling: “I just want to remind you that you don’t have to be positive for people, you only need to be healthy for yourself and supportive of yourself. Regardless, remember that you have survived this far. And you will continue to survive no matter what.”

We tend to be our own worst critics. We think that others will judge us for being a certain way. We think that they only subscribe to your friendship for the ‘happy’ version of yourself. We tell others to cut some slack and take a break sometimes, but we don’t apply that to ourselves.

But the truth is: if you are going through something difficult, it is okay to show that you are not okay. Be kinder to yourself. Take the time to figure things out. Set aside some time to do the things that you enjoy. Your loved ones are here for you.

Keep one another accountable (check in with each other)

It’s not easy to go through life alone, and it’s even harder to deal with challenges alone. Please remember that you are not an island. There are people who care about you. Check in with each other. Ask someone sincerely about how they are. Remember to not be too hard on yourself.

The leader of super-boyband BTS, Kim Namjoon, shared that a quote he holds close to his heart is: “Done is better than perfect.” He goes on to explain that he is someone who thinks too much. This quote comforts him because it reminds him that it is better to have completed something than to have never even started it because you were too worried about making it perfect. I hope this idea can comfort you too.

Author: Lily, 22

Where to get help

If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, have a look at our find help page for advice and suggestions on where to get help.

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