I once heard it said that having a mental health problem is like peeing yourself. Everyone can see it, but you’re the only one who can feel it. If you’re a well-meaning friend (WMF) and you want to help your friend who is going through a tough time, you will want to give your best advice. You can see the growing stain on the front of their pants, so the logical, and most helpful thing to do would be to tell them to change their pants. Right?
It makes sense to the person on the outside. But what if these are the only pants your friend or loved one has? It’s not like they don’t know there is a problem, and they would change them if they could, but they can’t. There may be a way to help cover it up, but it’s still there. Ultimately though, these are the pants your friend has, and they aren’t helped by being told there is a problem and the pants need changing. It’s not that they don’t want to change.
So what will help? Well, the first thing, and possibly the only stock answer, is to stop pointing at people’s groins and telling them there’s a problem. Highlighting a problem only makes people more self-conscious. Your friend or loved one is an individual person and they have feelings, thoughts, and desires. Do what you would do with any of your other friends and ask them what they need. Sometimes they will say “I don’t know why I feel like this.” If that happens, accept it and stop digging. They don’t know, it’s OK, and an interrogation won’t help.
Most likely, as a WMF, you have had times of depression or feeling anxious and you want to help your friend based on your understanding and experience. Maybe you once felt depressed for a month or so, and you were able to pull yourself out of it through “telling depression to ‘jog on'” or “taking your mind off it”. This doesn’t work for people with a disorder. Having a temporary spell with depression is like wearing stilts. You get a feel for what it’s like to be tall, but you don’t have to live with it all the time. A tall person can’t just “get down” and stop being tall.
Here are the three takeaways for today:
1 – If you are a WMF, just be there. Find out how you can support your friend or loved one and let them manage their own problems, just as you do. How do you find out what they need? Ask them. Don’t assume that because they are struggling they don’t know what they need.
2 – One of the bigger issues many people with a mental struggle face isn’t the problem itself, but the feeling of being alone and misunderstood. Let them know you there, and you want to be there, even if you don’t understand what is happening. In most cases that will be enough.
3 – We’ll leave this here from the last article: If you are a WMF, you cannot fix people. You can support them, be there for them, and be their friend.
Most of us have a decent enough self-awareness to know what makes us different from “the norm”. Tall people know they are tall. Short people know they are short. If someone is 6ft 11ins they don’t need to go to a clothing store to be told “Wow, you don’t fit in normal sized clothes.” It’s not helpful. What is helpful is to ask the person what they are looking for. Find out what your friend or loved one needs, and be that for them.
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