The reality of friendship for many lasts for years. Yes, we have ups and downs and yes, we fall out at times. One thing is certain for us is that if you have the right friends, they will be with you for life, whatever your mental health circumstances. True friends are listed as being few and far between but for me, I have many people that I would call ‘friends’.
Thinking about it, my nature has led me to be friendly with both sexes on a platonic basis. People that I love dearly, but don’t always know how to show it. Maybe nobody does. I suppose we could look at what makes them special to us but this would encourage an element of bias, perhaps. My friends are massively important to me but it is something that I haven’t thought too much about due to the goings-on in my own mind for the past two decades.
There is a tendency, as humans, to think that people will always be there for you and for the large part, this is true in my experience. But how do they know what to say to help you when you are suffering? My guess is that there are no words of comfort they can use not because they can’t, but I would suggest that people do not know what to say as it may not be ‘useful’?
“A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.”
In areas of mental health that have a dramatic effect on people, friends are in a terrible position. Whatever they say to help, may not be of any use to the affected person. It could be a trigger that ‘sets them off’, and puts them in a seemingly worse position than before. Or it could help them in a way they never thought possible. Therein lies the problem.
What do they do? The impossible situation. In my experience, people can quickly become silent on what to say to you and this is not unpredictable. In fact, I have done this myself where I have been reluctant to speak to a very dear friend of mine because I had given him the advice I could but it wasn’t enough for him. The same questions were asked and different answers expected and to be honest, it became exhausting.
I understand now how people must feel when it comes to helping friends through their troubles and woes. Within the suffocation of mental health issues, it doesn’t get easier. There is never the right thing to say but always the wrong way to act.
How to help?
There are numerous things that people can and will do to help their friends who suffer from their mental health. One thing is certain though, women are more comfortable talking about their problems than men are. But why is this? There is nothing wrong with someone picking up the phone to ask how they are doing. With men, it is a different situation. We are far too manly for that sort of interaction but something is missing with this approach. I feel that if we were to communicate better with one another, it would soften the boundaries between men.
A futuristic view, perhaps, but why is the stigma here in the first place? Is it men are too proud to admit there is something wrong? Would we be too dramatic? I admit in my experience, men have not been the stronger sex mentally. Women on the other hand are, and always have been. They have no problems in discussing with their friends the problems they encounter which goes some way to help their aching minds.
There are areas to consider when helping people to accept their current mental health issues. These can include the following eight points as discussed at mentalhealth.org.uk
- Set time aside with no distractions
- Let them share as much or as little as they want to
- Don’t try to diagnose or second guess their feelings
- Keep questions open-ended
- Talk about wellbeing
- Listen carefully to what they tell you
- Offer them help in seeking professional support and provide information on ways to do this
- know your limits
The points above are quite simple in their approach to helping the people you love and have grown up with. But it is also surprising that we find difficulty in the most basic of things. The stigma attached to mental health is problematic and must be overcome as we are living in a world now that is realising that people are not as functioning as they could be – they carry to much weight in their minds. However, this seems to be recognised globally as a problem. One person every forty seconds will commit suicide according to the World Health Organisation. If this problem is going to be managed well, I feel that the very start of the process begins with us recognising that our friends and family are ok, and if they’re not, we need to talk.
The weekend just gone, we were invited to a BBQ at our friend’s house. My emotions were all over the place beforehand as I ruminated over the last six months and how I had been with people, my behaviour and that all eyes may be looking at me, knowing that their friend had contemplated suicide, and had recently self-harmed. All this was circling in my head. I was again self-absorbed thinking about how I might be judged by others. But I never thought about AJ, and her ‘wants and needs’. She asked me if I wanted to go and inside I was excited at the fact of seeing the people I love again but the reality was that I was so much inhabited by anhedonia that I was too blind to see it.
My initial decision was to say no. I didn’t want to go. But, after realising that I am not the only person, I agreed to go. I understand now that this was very controlling of me and that it shouldn’t have got to that stage of me holding all the cards, but I couldn’t make the right decision at the time.
We arrived and it was a relief to be with them again. Initially, I was scared. Worried about what they would think of me, of us. The embarrassment that AJ has felt due to my problematic and controlling behaviour – really shocking behaviour. So much so, that I don’t recognise the person I am anymore. But this aside, we were made to feel so welcome by all that you would not understand what my problem was. These people had our backs and made it clear they did. Not by talking to us relentlessly, but being there. Asking the right questions. I know not of what I feared.
Maybe the feelings of others have their place. But they shouldn’t reside in our minds as we have friends who care for us, want the best for us, and quite simply, love us. We don’t realise this at times as we feel we are a hindrance to them who would be better off without us. But this simply isn’t true.
We are victims of our own mind. It takes control of you and will harm you if you let it. Yes, I do struggle most of the time but I am getting stronger to understand that I can change how I feel about things. It won’t happen overnight, but I feel I am going in the right direction even if it is slowly.
Take care of your friends – they are there for you.
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