“I wish that people could understand that the brain is the most important organ in your body. Just because you can’t see it like you could see a broken bone doesn’t mean it’s not as detrimental and devastating to a family or an individual.” – Demi Lovato
The Struggle We Can’t See: How To Support Friends With Mental Illness
We tend to fear what we don’t understand. Mental illness has long been stigmatized in our society. Providing a person who has been diagnosed with mental illness with the same love, compassion, and support as a person diagnosed with heart disease or cancer is crucial to their recovery. These friends and loved ones need a network of both emotional and functional support that may include friends and family as well as neighbors, coworkers, coaches, teachers, and counselors.
9 Warning Signs to Look For
Friends may be the first to notice that things aren’t ‘quite right’. If you suspect your friend may be suffering from a mental health condition, it’s important to seek out help as soon as possible.
Below are some signs to look for:
1. Isolating oneself
A friend loses interest in the activities they once enjoyed, does not respond to texts or phone calls, and no longer wants to hang out.
We all feel tired at times which can cause us to be more emotional; however, consistent tears and exhaustion lasting more than a few weeks may be a sign that something is wrong.
Suggested Read: It’s Okay For Everyone To Cry
3. Risky Behavior
Speeding, repeated and excessive use of alcohol and/or drugs, or any other out-of-control behavior that poses a risk to your friend or others should be addressed.
Cuts or burns could be an indication of self-harm, especially if your friend is wearing long sleeves or pants during warmer weather.
5. Mood Swings
Emotions swing back and forth between manic to depressed and lethargic. He or she may also lash out over seemingly small things.
6. Extreme Distraction
Your friend is fidgety, can’t sit still, or has difficulty concentrating.
7. Overwhelming Fear
Irrational fears or excessive worry keep your friend from participating in normal, daily activities.
8. Changes in Behavior
You notice your friend refusing to eat, throwing up, or using laxatives. His or her sleep habits and personality may also have changed.
9. Threatening Suicide
Even if you’re not sure if they are serious, it’s better to be safe and seek help.
4 Ways You Can Help
1. Talk About It
It’s extremely important to focus on observable behavior without shaming or judgment. For example, “I notice you’ve been skipping meals lately. Are you feeling okay?”
2. Share Your Concerns with Someone You Trust
Reach out to other supportive friends, family, clergy, teachers, coaches, or counselors. It is a heavy weight to be a friend’s sole support. Be transparent, and let your friend know you are sharing your concern with others. If it’s an emergency, don’t hesitate to dial 911.
3. Be Supportive
Although you can’t force someone to seek help, you can let them know you care. Offer to find mental health resources and services, and make the appointment for them. Ask if you can drive them or accompany them to an appointment. It can be difficult to complete daily tasks when suffering from a mental condition. Help with errands, cleaning, or childcare. Educate yourself about their condition. It’s easier to be empathic when we understand the cause of their behavior.
Suggested Read: Empathy Versus Sympathy: What Do We Need?
4. Build a Supportive Community
Don’t give up on them.
Call or text regularly, and continue to invite them to social gatherings even if they don’t attend. Use supportive and reassuring language. People with mental health conditions can’t ‘snap out of it’, ‘just be happy’, or ‘stop worrying’. Instead, reassure them that they will be okay, and you will continue to be there for them.
Remember, the first step in addressing mental illness is talking about it. You never know if a simple conversation could save someone’s life.