How to support a friend with a mental illness

In South Africa, there is still a negative stigma associated with mental health disorders. Whether it’s depression or anxiety, people are often quick to make assumptions and to make comments such as, “get over it.” But this isn’t the best way to be supportive and it will only end up driving them away. If you’re unsure how to help out your friend, here are a few ways that you can go about it.

Teach yourself about the disorder

Read about their specific mental health disorder in books or online. Get as much information about the facts as possible so that you can separate them from the myths. This way you’ll know what to expect and how you can help.

Show your support

It’s important that you show your friend that you still care about them and that they are not alone. This is because many people with mental health disorders often tend to become withdrawn from their friends or family. So continue to spend time with them, plan study sessions, go out to dinner or just hang out together. Even if they don’t feel like talking or spending time together, it can comfort them to know that you still care.

Ask how you can help

Instead of spending all your time guessing how you can help and support your friend – ask them. Even if they have trouble telling you what could be helpful, just by asking how you can help shows that you don’t think that you know better. It can help them to empower themselves and to improve their self-awareness.

The focus here is to also build trust and a rapport. So make sure that your discussions don’t turn into a debate and resist the temptation to give advice or to dismiss their concerns. If they have certain requests, see if they are manageable and be honest with what you can actually take on.

Don’t become the fixer

While it’s important that you have conversations with your friend about their mental illness, make sure that you don’t try and “fix” the problem. No matter how much you care for them, you can’t actually save them from what they are going through. You can ask them if they are getting the treatment that they want and need, and if not, to help them find effective care. However, you don’t want it to seem like you know more about what they are going through than they do.

Take care of yourself

Showing your support and care for your friend is very important, but it can sometimes be stressful and overwhelming. Make sure that you’re not getting so involved that you completely forget to take care of yourself. So take some time for yourself every now and again by doing something that you find relaxing. If you find that you are really struggling, then call a counselling or psychological services centre to get some support.

It’s not always easy supporting a friend who has a mental health disorder. It can be trying and stressful, but just being supportive you’re already showing that you care.

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