7 Ways to Support a Friend Who's Struggling With Their Mental Health

Aspyn Coaching
7 Ways to Support a Friend Who's Struggling With Their Mental Health

When problems like financial hardship, anxiety, depression, or grief affect friends, the desire to solve them is often overwhelming. After all, no one likes watching their loved ones struggle and hurt. Fortunately, there are seven easy ways to support friends during mental health crises. Best of all, many of the following strategies offer both long-term solutions and ongoing prevention.

1. Validate Their Feelings
Whether your friend is going through a divorce or experiencing job loss or other financial difficulties, the best way to support them is by listening. Active listening during times of hardship is validating. It lets people know that their complaints are worth hearing and that their feelings matter. Don't interject until your loved one is done speaking, don't make judgments, and don't attempt to solve the problem or diminish its severity.

In addition to validating thoughts and feelings, active listening also gives people an opportunity to work through their problems on their own, process their emotions, and either develop their resolve or foster acceptance. In some instances, taking the time to patiently hear someone out could be all that they really need.

2. Help With the Small Stuff
You won't be able to heal your friend's broken marriage, solve their money troubles, or stop their business from going into bankruptcy, but you can take care of the small things while they're overwhelmed with depression or stress. When you know that someone you care about is experiencing hardship of any type, this is a great time to roll up your sleeves. Stop by to help them clean up or gift them with professional cleaning service. Bring groceries over or share a home-cooked meal. These gestures will limit the pressure of day-to-day responsibilities so that your friend can focus on working through their troubles. If you don't know where and how to help, just ask.

3. Create a List of Resources
Helping people identify their resources is a way to help them help themselves. If you have a friend who's caring for an elderly relative and experiencing caregiver burnout, make a list of meal delivery services, support groups, and social service organizations that can pitch in. If your friend is going through a messy divorce, recommend mediation and drop-in counseling services. Friends experiencing housing loss, job loss, or other financial troubles are often more grateful for resource lists that offer long-term solutions than they are for short-term or one-time handouts. 

4. Be Available
Pipes under pressure have a tendency to burst. Be cognizant of the fact that excess stress can have a similar impact on people, especially those who have yet to learn good stress management. Try to be available for late-night phone calls, distressed texts, and other spontaneous conversations. If you ever find yourself overwhelmed in offering support, ask to enlist the help of an additional friend. If you ever have to temporarily "check out" for your own peace of mind, let your friend know that you'll be turning off your ringer for a few days rather than simply disappearing. 

5. Establish Firm Barriers
The most important thing to remember when helping a friend in need is that you cannot assist anyone with anything if you aren't taking good care of yourself. Your financial well-being, physical health, and mental health matter too. Putting yourself in dire financial straits or taking on too much emotional stress is never a good idea, even if it's done for the very best of your pals. While you can certainly offer limited monetary support for immediate needs, it's better for both you and your friend to offer assistance in resource identification, or to help them establish a sound strategy for making things better. In all instances, defining your limits will allow you to help others without harming yourself.

6. Practice Fidelity and Keep Secrets
Never discuss a friend's hardships with others unless you have their express permission to do so. Even if your intention isn't to gossip, the effects on your friendship will prove much the same. Gossip at times like these can be incredibly damaging to a person's mental health, especially when it's instigated by a close and trusted friend. Hardships like failed marriages and financial loss fill people with a sense of failure on their own. Repeating conversations that a friend has told you in confidence won't improve their already floundering self-esteem. Maintaining your loyalty and trustworthiness by faithfully keeping secrets guarded doesn't take a lot of effort, but it will definitely help your friend. 

7. Help Them Change Their Mindset
Mindset matters when it comes to solving problems. People are more likely to take a proactive approach to problem-solving when they believe in themselves, and when their self-images, thoughts, and emotions are generally positive. This is one of the top reasons why it's best to avoid gossiping or engaging in any other activities that might make your friend feel worse about themselves than they already do. You should instead highlight their attributes and former accomplishments. This can be as simple as listing a few of these things during conversations. However, you can also write down a list of all your friend's unique and valuable qualities, and then present this list as a gift. Alternatively, you can sit down together so that each of you can write what you like most about yourselves. This group activity will benefit both parties. No matter how you do it, helping a friend achieve a more positive self-image and mindset is guaranteed to be empowering. 

Above all things, recognize that mental health challenges can be as unique as the individual. You don't have to be an expert in solving mental health problems, you just want to be a good friend. 

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