How Can I Help My Friend
Excerpt from Behind Happy Faces: Taking Charge of Your Mental Health
©Ross Szabo & Melanie Hall
• Turn Confrontation into Conversation. When you approach a friend about mental health issues, it can quickly turn into a confrontation. You’re almost sure to hear, “I’m fine. You don’t get it. Leave me alone.” Here’s what you have to focus on in these situations – take a deep breath and think about how to turn the confrontation into a conversation.
• Help a Friend Feel Comfortable. Your friend may be defensive because he thinks you’re judging him. You can quickly change this by reminding him you’re on the same team. You care about him. You’re not there to argue; you’re there to help. You miss him, and you want to be there for him. Offer to go to therapy with him. He may decline your offer, but it might help him feel more comfortable.
• Discuss the Reasons. Refer back to Chapter Two, which discusses the most common reasons people don’t seek help. Reread the chapter with your friend in mind. Does your friend feel weak? Stupid? Afraid you will call her crazy? These are some of the questions to consider when you want to start a conversation.
• Approach You Friend in a Familiar Way. Think about how you used to enjoy spending time together. Did you watch TV? Shoot hoops? Sometimes people say they want to approach a friend, so they take him for a walk. But here’s the thing: if you’ve never gone for a walk with your friend before, then this is not the time to start. Think about it. You’re doing something that you’ve never done, while also discussing the person’s deepest, darkest issues. It’ll feel anything but natural.
If you’re worried about a friend you have known for a long time, then doing something you used to do together is a good option. Maybe you went for coffee, played sports, or did something healthy to relieve your stress. This is a good place to start the conversation.
• Talk Face-to-Face. For most people today, interactivity is like oxygen. Instant messaging is an essential part of life. It’s an easy, fast way to communicate. You can talk about anything. Even the tough stuff. It’s non-confrontational confrontation. You can argue with someone over IM while they sit ten feet away from you in the same room. It’s often more comfortable than actually taking to the person, especially if you’re mad. Avoidance only takes a click.
But if you are using instant message or texting to deal with emotional problems with your friend, she doesn’t have to reply. If you post on her profile, she doesn’t have to publish it. You can play these games forever. Where will it get you? Be the bigger person. Talk to your friend – face to face. You’ll have a much better chance of resolving your issue – or getting her to open up.
• You Can’t Be a Therapist Or Psychologist – What you absolutely cannot do, no matter how much you love your friend, is be a therapist or psychologist. You can’t diagnose his problems, recommend treatment, or give him medication. And this is true no matter how much you think you know about his disorder. It’s natural to want to heal him, but the best way to help your friend is to support and empower him as he comes to terms with his illness and resumes his life.
• You Cannot Help Someone Unless the Person Wants Help – Regardless of the severity of your friend’s disorder, if she doesn’t want help there is nothing you can do. Trust us on this. You should still follow the suggestions outlined in this book and try to open the door, but you cannot control the outcome. You cannot control how your friend responds to your attempts to help her. This should not stop you from trying; it’s just a lesson in life. You cannot control anyone but yourself.
• Take Care of Yourself Too. When dealing with a friend who has a mental disorder or any difficult situation, you also have to take responsibility for your own health. If your friend is locked in a downward spiral, do what you need to do to protect yourself. Talk to someone you trust and get the support you need. Before you know it, these problems can suck you into the undertow. Take care of yourself first.
• Remember That Caring About Your Friend Can’t Make Your Friend Care About Herself. This may sound crazy, but bear with us. When someone has a lot of self-hate, it’s almost impossible for him to receive love. You tell him you love him, but it doesn’t register. It can’t. He, like many others who feel this way, sees no reason why you would. Until he learns to love himself, he can only see his flaws and faults. This should not keep you from expressing your affection; just know what you’re up against. But don’t lose your faith in him. Maybe you can help him see himself through your eyes. And, of course, encourage him to seek professional help as well.
Mental Health Survival Expert, Campus Calm