Part of being a good friend is being there for them when you notice that something is wrong. For many, this includes helping friends find the support they need when they’re experiencing a decline in mental health. Though this may seem like a daunting task, it doesn’t have to be if you know how to spot symptoms early and are aware of resources available to help.
Symptoms of Mental Illness
We all have bad days. Unexpected curve balls are always thrown our way, and it’s normal to be emotional or sad during upsetting times. If you feel that a friend isn’t reacting normally to obstacles or completely shutting down, something more serious could be happening. Some signs of a mental illness include:
· Withdrawing from social activities and being down for more than two weeks.
· Overwhelming fear for no reason.
· Severe mood swings.
· Not eating, throwing up or using laxatives when unneeded.
· Self- harming such as cutting or burning.
· Out-of-control risk-taking behavior.
· Difficulty in following through with plans.
· Drastic change in behavior or personality.
· Out-of-hand sleeping habits.
What You Can Do to Help
Everyone is different and does not heal or cope in the same way. What worked for you or a friend in the past may not be helpful to a friend struggling currently. A few different ways you can help are:
Share Your Concerns
Share your observations with your friend. Focus on being nonjudgmental, compassionate and understanding. Use “I” instead of “you” comments to get the conversation started.
- I’ve noticed you’re (sleeping more, eating less, etc.). Is everything okay?
- I've noticed that you haven't been acting like yourself lately. Is something going on?
Reach Out to Those You Trust
When a friend is in need, you don’t need to do it alone. Try involving others who can help or are understanding of the situation your friend is in. However, your friend may become concerned when you begin to involve others, so make sure they’re aware and okay with you reaching out before you do. However, if it’s an emergency, you should always call 911 or alert an authority figure. Others you could reach out to include:
· Friends and family
· Teachers and counselors
· Faith-based leaders
Offer Your Support
Keep in mind that you cannot force someone to get help or be ready to discuss what he or she is going through. Do your best to be there with your support and be ready if and when they do finally reach out. It may be helpful to offer specific things that might help, such as:
- How can I best support you right now?
- Is there something I can do or can we involve others who can help?
- Can I help you find mental health services and supports? Can I help you make an appointment?
- Can I help you with the stuff you need to get done until you’re feeling better?
You can be the difference in helping a friend who needs support but is too afraid to seek help. Being a friend means being there in the good times and bad. Sometimes, simply talking or supporting a friend is the only push they need to get through a difficult time. By being aware of symptoms and resources of mental illness, you can be prepared to effectively help a friend in need.