Emily Stamp gives some helpful and comforting advice to anybody who is supporting a friend or family member that is suffering from a mental health disorder.
If you have not experienced a mental health disorder, then the idea of helping someone through one can be scary; with you being thrown in the deep end, despite your willingness to help. Even if you have experienced a mental health disorder, they can affect people differently so you cannot always generalise your help. Despite this, here is a list of 5 things to remember while supporting others:
Does your friend/family member want you to sit with them, distract them, listen or go on a walk? Make sure they know that you can be adaptable to their needs (within reason), and that you are there and want to help them in the best way possible.
Give Them Space
It is normal to be worried about someone with a mental health disorder but worrying to the extent of hovering, or that being all you can talk about is not helpful. For example, a friend with an eating disorder is unlikely to want you to watch them eat- so if they have opened up to you before, give them space to do so again. Opening up can be scary, so be patient.
The Internet is a wonderful source of information. Use it. Find out as much as you can about your friend/family member’s illness, including symptoms, scenarios, causes, side effects of medication and read up on other peoples’ personal experiences. There are also plenty of self-help books out there. My recommendation, although more specific to depression and anxiety, would be Matt Haig’s ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’, but there are countless others.
Look Past Their Mental Health Disorder
Mental health doesn’t define someone. Sure, it may affect how they relate to people and what they do, but at the end of the day that ‘original’ person still exists. Treating them as their mental health disorder, (for example, being surprised when a socially anxious person tries to go out,) reduces other aspects of their personality and can make them feel ever more conscious of their label. This is not exactly supportive. Do not be a constant reminder of their disorder, be a constant reminder of your friendship.
Don’t Forget You
This may be the most underrated piece of advice I could give. Mental health is not pretty and it’s rarely nice to hear about and when you care for someone it can be even harder. If it is negatively affecting you in any way, do tell someone or seek help (either from a professional or someone you trust), it’s not a sign of weakness but a sign of you wanting to help that person to the best of your ability.