When you have a friend (or friends) who suffer with a mental illness like depression, it can be hard to know what to do when they are struggling. It all depends on the person - mental illness affects us all differently, and everyone has their own coping mechanisms when it comes to dealing with their illness. All I know, as someone who suffers with both anxiety and depression, is that having someone there (either helping vocally, or just being there) is a hell of a lot better than not having anyone, no matter how many times I’ve tried to push people away.
Having a friend with a mental illness is not easy, and I’m not going to pretend that it is. But, as much as it’s not easy for you, it’s not a walk in the park for them, either. Those who have mental illnesses don’t like to rely on people, because, a lot of the time, people let them down. They promise that they’re going to be there for them, but don’t pick up the phone when they’re having a bad day, or ignore their messages when they’re in need of help. It takes a lot for someone who is mentally ill to even talk to you about it. I know it’s not always easy being their friend. But it wasn’t easy for them to let you in, either.
There is no simple way to deal with a friend who is mentally ill. Everyone copes differently, and sometimes they will push you away, or, on the opposite end of the scale, will rely solely on you for comfort. It’s going to be a long haul when they go through recovery, but trust me, when they do finally get better, and it becomes noticeable that they’re getting better, you will look and be thankful that you went on this journey with them. Watching people get better is one of the most beautiful sights that your eyes will see.
I have been best friends with a depressed girl for five years. Being mentally ill myself, it hasn’t always been easy, especially when I’m trying to go through recovery too. It can be hard, but sometimes it is good to be selfish. Sometimes you do have to put yourself first. But that doesn’t mean disregarding them altogether. That doesn’t mean suddenly not responding to their messages, nor does it mean disregarding their mental health journey because you’re on your own journey. It simply means taking some time out for yourself some days. If I was having a bad mental health day, and so was she, I’d rest for a while before responding to her messages. Obviously, if it was an emergency, I’d respond straight away to keep her from doing something she might regret. But I would gauge it from the message. I understood that some days, I couldn’t deal with her problems until I’d at least started to figure out my own, and she understood that, too.
If you’re dealing with a depressed friend, all you can do is try your best to be there for them, but not to the detriment of your own mental health. Talk through their problems with them, try and understand that they cannot help how they are, just like you cannot help how you are. Gauge what they want from you as a friend - maybe they want advice, or maybe they just want someone to sit there and hold them until they feel better. Ask them what they want from you, so that you can do your utmost to support them. Let them know that you are here for them through whatever they have to go through. Maybe try suggesting that they seek professional help too. This can alleviate some pressure put on you, and gives them at least two people that they can talk to throughout recovery. Hold their hand on the really bad days. Tell them that you love them, regardless. Be there when everyone else has turned their back. They’re still human, and sometimes, just like you do, they need someone to tell them that everything will be okay, even when it doesn’t feel like it will be at all. Be their person. Be the one who shows them that when people say they’ll be there, a few do actually mean it.
Teenagers With Experience is an online platform ran by teenagers for teenagers. We provide support through sharing our own experiences and providing advice based from this. If you need support, feel free to reach out to us on one of our social media platforms. We will do our best to support you and if we feel we cannot we will direct you to more suited, professional support.