It’s never easy to know exactly what to say to your friend, whether she’s asking you if you like her new shoes (you don’t) or opening up to you about her divorce (you didn’t like him to begin with).
One of the most difficult situations is when your friend is struggling with a mental health condition, like depression, anxiety or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
What should you say? How can you show her you care, even if you don’t understand what she’s going through? What should you do when you have no idea what to do next?
Many black women tend to shy away from our sisters, friends, and loved ones who are struggling with mental health conditions. It’s almost like it’s too much to deal with, especially when we’re all juggling a million other things.
On the flip side, it may be tempting to go into fix-it mode, acting as if you know exactly what she needs to do to snap out of it.
Support always starts with listening to understand better. Then, acting out of empathy and a genuine desire to see her overcome her mental health condition.
Don’t Say …
“Girl, Just Calm Down.”
That’s a lot easier said than done, especially for someone with anxiety.
Yes, being calm is possible, especially with treatment and relaxation techniques. But that’s for a physician or meditation guru to lead.
Also, she may move into emotion suppression territory. That’s when your friend pushes her feelings inside so she can be “calm” in front of you. But the emotions aren’t actually going away. They’re just festering. Her mental health can end up worse in the long run.
“Get Over It.”
Would you tell someone with the stomach flu to get over throwing up? No. Would you tell someone who broke her leg yesterday to just start walking? No.
It’s no different for someone with a mental health condition.
It’s easy to think someone should “get over it,” since you can’t see any physical injury. But remember—your friend probably friend didn’t choose to have a mental health condition. Someone with a mental illness can’t simply say “okay, I’m good, now.”
“Have You Thought About … ?”
It’s tempting to play Dr. Best Friend, and ask her if she has tried this treatment or that medicine. It’s probably coming from a good place, but it may not the best way to show support.
First of all, you’re not her doctor. You don’t know her medical history, which types of approaches are best for her, etc.
Second, yes—she probably has looked at lots of treatments.
It’s okay to ask her if she wants any help finding treatment options, or recommend a physician you worked with. Just avoid the urge to act like you are the expert when it comes to her health.
“Why Can’t You Just Be Happy?”
If she knew the answer, she’d be happy.
“How Can I Support/Help You?”
This simple question may be one of the most important questions you can ask. Your first instinct might be to help her one way, but she may need something totally opposite. By asking her, you can find out exactly what you should do—without having to do any guesswork, or accidentally making things worse.
It also shows her something important: you are there for her, and you trust her. Her condition could be making her feel like she’s helpless or losing control—and letting her tell you how to help may give back a sense of control.
“Are You Getting Treatment?”
There isn’t one “best” way to treat a mental health condition—but getting professional help is definitely up there on the list.
However, your friend might be hesitant to get help. Maybe she thinks talking about mental health is taboo, so she’s afraid to ask for help. Or, it could be as simple as she can’t get a ride to the therapist’s office.
So, it’s time for you to step up and encourage her to get help from an expert.
Reassure her that overcoming a mental health condition is not a one-woman job, and that getting help doesn’t make her any less independent or strong. Offer to help her find a physician, get a ride to appointments, etc.
“Do You Need Some Space?”
If she’s always got a million folks around she may be feeling overwhelmed. Let her know that you’re there for her whenever she needs you, but offer to give her a little time to herself.
That doesn’t mean you have to ignore her forever. But if she says she wants space, avoid the urge to text her all day, every day.
“You Go Girl.”
Okay, you’ll probably want to find more current way to say this. But when your girl has been working hard, let her know that you’re proud of her.
One Last Thing
Taking care of a friend with a mental health condition is hard work, and it can take a toll on your own well-being. Keep your own mental and physical health in tip-top shape, whether that means hitting the gym or talking to your own therapist.
Remember: You can’t help your friend unless you help yourself.
Do all of your friends know what to do to help your friend through her mental health condition? Pass this along, so you can all work together to help your friend.