If you’re needing mental health assistance please call BeyondBlue on 1300 224 636. Or if social anxiety has got you good, you can always message for help at lifeline.org.au/get-help/onlineservices/crisischat/ or text White Wreath at 0410 526 562
It can be hard to see a friend struggle with a mental illness like anxiety and even harder to know how to help them. Those with anxiety can begin to close themselves off to the rest of the world and this makes it difficult for anyone to access them, let alone draw them out. But having supportive friends and relatives can provide immeasurable reassurance for someone with a mental illness.
How to help someone with anxiety
It can be hard to see a friend struggle with a mental illness like anxiety and even harder to know how to help them. Those with anxiety can begin to close themselves off to the rest of the world and this makes it difficult for anyone to access them, let alone draw them out. But having supportive friends and relatives can provide immeasurable reassurance for someone with a mental illness. Without it they are likely to feel abandoned, alone and even more vulnerable. So if you are reading this because you want to help someone you are already doing them a great service with your intention. The following tips should help understand how to support someone with mental health problems.
Do your research
In order to help a friend you first have to understand a little about their condition. Don’t rely on any preconceptions because they are likely to be tainted by stigma. Despite efforts such as Mental Health Awareness Month, the stigma attached to mental health lives on, in the media and society as a whole. So awareness of their struggle is key, otherwise you risk preaching about something you don’t actually understand and frustrating them even more. Remember that knowing a bit about mental illness is completely different from experiencing it yourself. It is only respectful that you treat them as an expert of their own condition and don’t try to tell them they are just being irrational or illogical. Mental illness, like a disease, requires treatment: therapy or sometimes medication. It is not a simple case of “getting a grip.”
Be there for them
Letting someone know that you are there for them, that they can phone or talk to you without any judgement provides a strong message of support to that person. You are probably not their only support base and may already be seeing a mental health professional so you shouldn’t need to worry that you are their only port of call for support. They also are likely to not just want to talk about their mental health problems. If they do you can help a lot by listening, but it is probably best not to bring up the topic too much yourself. More light-hearted chat will be a welcome distraction for them.
Plan fun days out
Perhaps organise some fun activities to do together and it will help take their mind off things for a bit. Choose something you both love to do. It will be good for you both to have something to look forward to. Outdoor activities can be especially beneficial; the sun and exercise will raise their spirits and seeing a new place can cheer you both up as a break from your usual routines.
Take care of your own mental health
Watch out for your own wellbeing by ensuring you are also in good shape. Get enough sleep, do exercise and eat well to keep your mood up. It can be distressing to see loved ones suffer and its important to stay optimistic that they can get better. Spend time with other, more mentally-well people too, so you don’t get dragged down yourself.
Try to take any outbursts with a pinch of salt because people who are mentally ill can often behave in ways they wouldn’t otherwise. Mental health and irritability often come hand in hand. So if your friend suddenly snaps and seems annoyed at you, give them some space and remember that it’s probably their mental illness influencing their behaviour and nothing personal. Again, take care of yourself and give yourself some space if it happens repeatedly.
No mental health condition has an instant fix and it can take years for it to go away. If your friend starts taking medication it can also be particularly arduous for them, as it is often a process of trial and error lasting weeks until they find a drug that suits them. So don’t expect to suddenly see them getting better before your eyes. Celebrate the fact that you are trying to support them and that they are on a journey to recovery, however long it may take.
The time it takes for people to learn to cope or recover can be long but if you give up on your friend they are more likely to give up on themselves. Sometimes, when they are at a low point, you might be feeling down yourself and will be tempted to agree with their gloomy sentiments. However many trials of medications or different therapies it takes, keep in mind that there are always other ways. The film, ‘The Last Shaman,’ is a good example of this. It shows a young man’s struggle with depression. After trying numerous medications and therapies without improvement, he makes one last ditch effort and travels to the Amazon to seek shamanic services. Although not exactly a feel-good film, it is heartening to see how he eventually finds relief, although not in the way he had expected. It is important to believe your friend can be healed one day too.
You don’t need to put on an act for them either because this person is, after all the same person they are when they’re not ill. Don’t let their illness define them, for you or for them. It’s helpful for them to spend time in your company like you usually would on their good day. Whether or not they realise it, socialising with people they get along with will help hugely with their healing process.
It will mean more to them than you will ever realise.