So You’ve Called Your Friends...Now What?
The hard questions and answers you NEED to consider if you want to be a better ally to your friends struggling with mental health.
The conversation surrounding mental health is filled with encouragement to check on your friends, and as important as that is, it prompts the question, “Okay, so I’ve called my friends...now what?”
Mental health's a completely different ball game. So how do you go from cheering on the sidelines to helping your friend stay in the battle?
It won’t be easy, but with an open mind, communication, and shit ton of patience, it is possible. Though I can’t give you definite answers, I can at least give you some insight on where to start.
Remember: Mental illness is different for everyone. This is just my advice on a few things you should begin thinking about and is entirely subjective. What helps my depression, may not help someone else and that’s okay. You just need to figure that out together.
Disclaimer: I am not, nor do I claim to be, a mental health expert. Much of this is based on personal experience. Further independent research is strongly recommended. These are simply things to consider and should not be used in place of professional help.
Q: What should I do if my friend won’t talk about things that bother them?
A: Boundaries are important. Your friend may never be comfortable talking to you about their problems and that’s okay!
If they seem uncomfortable, let them know they don’t have to open up if they don’t want to but can take a conversation deeper if they’d like. Remind them you’re here to listen without judgment; show them they can trust you and respect them if they’re not ready to.
Read the room. If they don’t want to get into it, don’t push them.
Q: Is there anything I shouldn't say if my friend is freaking out?
A: Honestly? If you can put it next to a “hang in there” kitten poster, I’d avoid it altogether.
Generalized phrases like “it’s gonna be okay, you’ll be fine” etc. can be meaningful at first but are too vague to offer much reassurance.
And if they're in the middle of freaking out over something you think is small don't question them about it! It can come off as dismissive and may make them feel worse or invalidate their struggles.
Perhaps you have the best intention but just want to know why your friend is freaking out — but this isn't the time to ask!
Your presence should come as comfort, not an interrogation. Instead, try reaffirming them.
Tell them that no matter how bad it is, you are in their corner, because you love them and you have their back, and you’ll figure that shit out together.
Q: My friend is spiralling and I don’t know what to do?!
A: In order to pull them out of their spiral, they need to stop spinning first. You need to get them to calm down and it’s not always just a heartfelt conversation.
If they agree it can be helpful, I’d recommend establishing what my friends and I call a “comfort zone.” A comfort zone can be anything and/or place that makes the person feel grounded.
When I’m headed towards a depressive spiral or find myself riddled with anxiety, I find wearing long sleeves and rewatching Supernatural calms me down. Watching a show (especially my favorite one) intentionally gives my mind something else to focus on instead of the fear or dark thoughts in my head. The long sleeves give me a feeling of safety and comfort. It may sound a bit lame, but this is how I come down.
**This example is specific to me, so be sure to help your friend figure out what relaxes them (like running, drawing, chilling with friends etc.) before you offer assistance on the situation.
Q: Should I text my friend everyday to see how they’re doing mentally?
A: Short answer? No, not really.
Unless this is a system you both agreed on or talked about, it can feel extremely belittling.
Just because someone deals with mental illness, doesn’t mean they’re incapable of taking care of themselves, nor do they want to feel like they’re being treated as such.
Check in with your friends regularly; anywhere between once a week to once a month should be a safe area, just ask them how they are and let them decide what they want to share.
Q: How can I help my friend if I don’t know what their triggers are?