It’s far too frequently that we all feel that horrible, desperate sadness at the news that someone has died by suicide. If you’ve suffered with your mental health it can bring up difficult memories or emphasise feelings of frustration and isolation and if you haven’t it can leave you feeling helpless or unsure as to how to best be there for the people around you. Today I thought I’d write a post with some advice (based on personal experiences rather than any professional insight) for those who, given recent news, worry that they don’t know how best to be there for the people they care about, who worry about getting things right or who just don’t always have the mental energy to be checking in with the people they love as much as they feel they should do.
Ask people what they need – everyone’s needs are different and everyone needs support in different ways. You don’t have to go into a conversation prepared to bring up all sorts of uncomfortable or messy emotions, but asking people if there’s anything they need or that you can be doing for them can be a really good starter – whether it’s just arranging to go for a coffee to check in with them or acknowledging that you know a certain time of year is difficult for them etc. It reminds people that you’re there for them and care about them but it doesn’t force conversations.
Be Patient – mental health problems can seem irrational, illogical and incredibly frustrating. People’s behaviour might make you feel exasperated or like you can’t get through to them. Whilst it’s ok to feel this frustration, prioritise being patient with the person you’re supporting – they likely know their behaviour isn’t helpful/doesn’t make sense, but anger or shame won’t help them get out of the cycle. Be kind, empathetic and encouraging.
Take care of your own emotions too – it can be so easy to put pressure on yourself to be checking in with everyone you love and looking for signs that they’re struggling with their mental health, but it’s important to recognise that supporting someone takes a lot of mental energy and can leave you feeling hurt or sad or anxious. You can still be there for people whilst making sure that you remember to be there for yourself. If you’re having a stressful week but know someone else is going through a bit of a rough time, let them know you’re having a bit of a crap time but that you want to check in with them and arrange to meet up/have a catch up for the next week.
Don’t feel like you have to support someone in isolation – there are so many resources out there to help you understand a person’s mental illness and there’s also so many services you can suggest to people. You don’t and definitely shouldn’t have to be the sole person someone relies on and you don’t have to figure out how to be there for them on your own. Mind provide free, online resources explaining how different illnesses manifest themselves, as well as providing personal accounts and advice for self help/support.
Remember that mental illness and accountability shouldn’t be two mutually exclusive things – it can be difficult to support someone with their mental health if sometimes what they’re going through manifests itself in ways that leave you feeling hurt. Your feelings are just as important and you should be able to hold people to account and ensure they respect your boundaries without them feeling attacked or hurt. Having a mental illness doesn’t make someone hard to love but it can be tough for those supporting at times and that’s not a reflection on either person. Make sure you let people know your boundaries in a non confrontational way and try to prioritise being empathetic and understanding with each other.
It’s ok to get things wrong – communicating, especially over things that you might usually not speak about, can be difficult and everyone’s coming at life from different perspectives/with different experiences. Try not to be too hard on yourself if you think you maybe didn’t do the right thing or weren’t as supportive as you could’ve been. Just try your best to be there for the people you care about in the ways you can.