1 in 5
It's the number of people who experience mental illness each year in North America.
You are most likely to have a friend around you that needs your support. But it can be intimidating and you don't always know what to do.
What are the best ways to be there for your friend?
Be Aware Of The Signs
The signs of mental illness depend on what your friend is experiencing, but may include:
Feeling down, sad, or tired for more than 2 weeks
Withdrawing from social activities and losing interest in things they usually enjoy
Changing eating habits
Sudden behavior/personality changes: mood swings, out-of-control or risky behaviors, agitation, lack of concentration, feeling sadness or fear for no reason
If you notice any concerning changes:
Talk to your friend — ask them how they are/how they feel
Offer to talk to someone you trust together — a school advisor, parents, or a sibling
Even if your friend is in denial, they will know they can reach out when they are ready.
"The first time someone asked me if I was depressed, I became defensive and laughed it off. But it’s always better to try and have the conversation with someone you think might be struggling, no matter how awkward it feels, or whether your concerns are recognised. I knew somewhere deep down that I was miserable, and my friend’s question forced me to think about it. I don’t know if it made it easier to then open up to my parents and seek help, but it felt like a start." - Bella Mackie
Do your research. Find as much info as possible on your friend's illness.
Then ask your friend: what is their experience of it?
It will help you understand what they are going through and learn to notice signs before a crisis.
Encourage your friend to seek treatment and "support their efforts to do so. "
Show your friend treatment is a priority. "Offer to drive them to their therapy session," for example.
In doing so, you help your friend realize how important professional support is to control their symptoms and stay healthy.
Your friend Joe was just diagnosed with an eating disorder. You're worried because he doesn't want to see a therapist. What should you do?
Because it is a long-term battle, a person struggling with a mental illness often feels:
Even if it is hard to truly understand, you can try and show compassion.
Tell them you are here for them. Those simple words can be really valuable to your friend.
Include your friend in your plans. They might not always respond but it is important that you keep asking so they can join when they feel better.
Show your support. Be attentive but don't be controlling (i.e. by reminding them constantly to take their medication). Let them ask for support sometimes to help them regain control over themselves by managing their own situation.
Simple words, simple ways
What Can I Do In Case Of A Crisis?
Talking is the key
Sometimes, it is not easy to find the words but saying something is better than saying nothing. Say that you are here for your friend, gently and calmly, to try to soothe them.
Focus on their emotions
During a crisis, your friend might feel scared, depressed, anxious, or abnormally happy.
Listen to Lauren's testimony:
Call for help
If your friend is experiencing a severe crisis, get help. Call a parent that they trust or get in contact with a mental health professional. They will help find a solution to ease your friend.
You noticed that your friend Rita, who lives with depression, has been down lately. Now she is very anxious and she starts crying. What is your first reaction?
Think about your own wellbeing. You need to stay healthy and stable to help your friend.
Take care of yourself. Follow the basics: eat healthy meals, exercise, and sleep well.
You need support, too! You can talk to a friend or a family member. Consider joining a group for people who help loved ones with a mental illness.
Set boundaries. "A mental illness is no excuse for bad behavior" that could impact your own life. Encouraging your friend to treat you with respect might also help them control the symptoms of their illness.
If you are willing to support your friend struggling with a mental illness and take the long ride with them: