Lauren, March 3, 2017

Even if it’s difficult to understand fully, being there makes the world of difference.

What happens if your friend stops texting you back? No longer seems interested when you suggest a night out? It’s so easy to automatically assume that perhaps they’re losing interest in your friendship. Sometimes, the reality can be that they are facing a daily battle with their own mind. Mental illness comes in different forms but no matter the problem, it can become awfully debilitating for those suffering. Getting out of bed, if achieved at all, can feel like an uphill battle. Everyday tasks which are usually done without batting an eyelid become more and more difficult to manage.

It can be difficult to know what to do, or what to say, if you have a friend who is going through a difficult time. You don’t want to slip up for fear of saying the wrong thing or feel as though you’re being insensitive to their feelings. It can be an incredibly isolating place, so first and foremost, acknowledging that you are there for them and ready to listen whenever they want to talk, is a great start. Some of what they say may be difficult to understand, but try to keep an open mind and offer a non-judgemental approach. What’s important to remember is that some days they might not feel up to meeting up. Recognise that this is nothing to do with you, they might just be having a bad day and need some time alone. Send a simple text to let them know that you’re there and ready to organise something at a later date.

I’ve been mostly lucky with the people in my life who have been understanding and helpful at a time when I needed them most. When I became depressed after the end of a relationship, my friends were extremely considerate. It happened at a time when one of my good friends was travelling around Australia. She was having these amazing experiences yet still found the time to be there for me. My anxiety worsened at night and I often struggled to sleep. Of course, it was the middle of the night in the UK but the middle of the day in Australia. She was always there, at the other end of the phone, sending me words of encouragement. I don’t think she realised just how much she was helping.

Yet, one bad experience with a person who I was particularly close to, affected me in a very big way. I try to focus on the positives as much as possible, but I think it’s important to recognise the profound impact that this negative experience had on me. I never want someone to feel the guilt and shame that I did about not being okay. Looking back, I couldn’t believe that I had found the strength to open-up and didn’t get the response I so desperately craved. You want to believe that the ones you care about the most are standing in your corner.

You see, mental illness is not a choice. In the same way that you can break your arm, you can become depressed. It can seemingly come out of nowhere and leaves you feeling extremely vulnerable. To understand how to cope with a friend’s illness, empathy is key. Even if it’s difficult to understand fully, being there for a loved one and letting them know you’re not going anywhere, makes the world of difference. They are still your friend, but one who is going through a particularly difficult time. Life is always going to have its ups and downs. Friendship is about supporting those you care about, through the good and the bad, no matter what. 

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