How to support a friend with their mental health

21 Apr 2022
By Ellie B, Student at

Mental health is a topic close to my heart. When someone you care for is suffering from depression, anxiety, stress, or any other mental health difficulty, it can seem impossible to support them.

Equally, when it is your mental health that is suffering it can feel difficult and uncomfortable to accept support from those around you. I suffer from depression, and I was worried that my flatmates and friends would be treading on eggshells around me if they found out. That’s why I’m sharing my personal tips on how you can help a friend who is struggling with their mental health.

Ask what they need

It was only when I took the plunge and opened up to my flatmates about issues I had going on, that I realised they were finding my situation difficult to deal with as well. They wanted to support me but were unsure how; they didn’t want me to feel like they were ‘babying’ me, but equally didn’t want me to feel neglected or alone.

The best way to overcome this is communication. If you are in this situation, ask about your friends' needs and how they feel you can best support them during this time. And don’t forget, mental illness does not define a person. We still want to have fun like everyone else! Make some plans; distraction can be a great tool.

Problem-solving doesn’t always work

As humans, the first thing we want to do when we come across a problem is solve it! But when it comes to mental health, this isn’t always possible - or even wanted. It can lead to more frustration, so sometimes all you can do to help a friend in need is to listen. A simple ‘how are you’ can make a person feel cared for and opens the opportunity for them to talk about how they feel. They may want to talk about it, or they may not, but this simple question can go a long way.

If they do choose to talk to you about how they feel, try to listen without judgement. Something that does not seem like a big deal to you, may be a big deal to someone else. You can offer tips to help them out if they ask, but try not to take a ‘problem-solving’ approach. Many of these struggles are in our head and cannot be solved that simply. Just lending a shoulder to cry on will show your friend that you care about them, and this can mean a lot.

Offer to go to their doctor with them

When someone is struggling with their mental health, going to a doctor or therapist can be hard. While we have come a long way with mental health awareness, there is still a lot of stigma around therapy and extra support. If your friend is finding it hard to get that help, offering to go with them is a great way to support them. When I first went to my doctor, my friend came with me and that helped me feel a lot more comfortable and reminded me that it is okay to need therapy. We spent some time together afterwards as I was feeling vulnerable and overwhelmed, which I appreciated.

Understand that support is on their terms

The bottom line when supporting someone with mental health difficulties is to help them on their terms. It can be frustrating if someone isn’t ready to talk about their feelings, especially when you just want them to feel better, but it is important not to pressure them. Try to be patient and be there when they feel they are ready. A friend can be the most valuable resource when it comes to mental health recovery, so check in when it feels appropriate, but let them come to you for support rather than forcing it.

If you feel you or someone else could benefit from some support, take a look at these resources:

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I am a Mathematics student in my first year of studies. Lover of dancing, Marvel, and passionate about mental health.