I have been on both the giving and receiving ends of support. Here are some things I would have liked to tell myself, and others, in either or both situations:
To someone struggling
What you are feeling is real, and it is not your fault for feeling this way. You are not overreacting. I know it is scary, but I promise you these things: you matter, and people want to help you so badly. No matter what your brain is telling you, you will not be bothering others by reaching out. Asking for help is a sign of strength.
No one deserves to feel that sadness is their baseline emotion. That they are a waste of space. That having a constant knot in your stomach is just something to get used to. I may not know you, but I know that you are not making it up. I promise there are people who care about you, and if it does not seem that way, know that they are on the other side of the helpline, waiting for your call.
To someone helping a loved one
When someone confides in you, you have the privilege to help. Your concern, words, questions, hugs – they can save a life. But helping a friend experiencing mental health-related difficulties is challenging. Awkward. Uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it anyway, but it’s important to acknowledge. You are not a bad friend for feeling these things; helping someone struggling is not something we are taught to do. As a society, we know more about how to celebrate, less about how to support. I hope these tips can help in navigating how to practice V-A-R® to be there for a friend.
- Ask how you can help. Not just, “Let me know if you need anything,” but, “Is there anything I can help with?” Or, “What can I do to best support you?” It could be overwhelming for your friend to try and think of ways to help, but perhaps ask them to promise to you that they will let you know if they think of anything. Asking them what they need shows they have choices. Having those choices, when so much feels out of their control, can provide some comfort.
- Remind them that they rock. It’s simple statements, like “You matter to me,” “Your desires are valid,” “You deserve respect.” Mental health issues can make you forget your self-worth, so having those external affirmations can help.
- Thank them for sharing. Vulnerability is powerful, but also scary. After all, baring your soul to someone else without knowing how they’ll respond requires a leap of faith. When the other person knows they are appreciated, it helps reduce feelings of being bothersome.
- Have patience. While many mental health issues are treatable, it could take months or even years for someone to recover. To be a supportive friend, then, means to stick around and continue checking in, even on good days.
- Practice self-care. It can get weary to constantly be there for someone who is struggling. It is important to establish boundaries in order to most effectively support them. Remind yourself that it is not your job to “fix” them or make them happy, and that you are not a licensed mental health provider. While it can feel frustrating, like you are not doing enough, at the end of the day, it is not your personal battle. You cannot run the marathon for them, but you can offer support by handing them towels (or tissues) from the sideline.
Whether you are struggling, or helping someone who is, you are so appreciated. Remember that help is available 24/7 through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.
To learn more about how to help a friend, head to activeminds.org/var.