How to Care for a Struggling Friend | By Mary Joy Viernes

There’s no doubt that life is tough. At some point, we need a friend who will be there for us when we are at our lowest. At the same time, there are times when our friends are the ones who need us. Yes, this is difficult especially when mental health is involved. It’s hard to be of help to our friends when they’re struggling when at the same time, we’re also struggling in our day-to-day life. Sometimes, we just really don’t know how to help a friend even if it’s at the best of our intentions and if you’re feeling the same way, you’re not alone.

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Personally, I had a friend who was struggling with her mental health and I was distraught as I didn’t know what to do. I saw the physical manifestations of her struggles and feared that I might make matters worse if I spoke to her about it or reach out for help. When she opened up to me, I honestly didn’t know what to tell her or how I’ll be able to stop her from harming herself. To make matters worse, I felt like a bad friend and blamed myself for not being able to help her because as much as I wanted to, I didn’t know how.  I chose to keep silent and that’s a decision that I still regret up to this very day.

You might have had a different experience but all in all, there’s no step-by-step guide or rule book that will tell us how to be a good friend. During these difficult times however, the least we can do is try and look out for one another. But what can we do to help a friend? 

Prior to this, how can we know if our friend is struggling with their mental health, especially if they’re not the type to open up? Here are some signs

  1. Frequently seems “down” (i.e. seems sad or tearful)
  2. Has less energy, is listless or has trouble concentrating
  3. Lost interest in daily activities and/or things they usually love doing
  4. Neglects personal hygiene
  5. Gets upset easily
  6. Has been under-/over-eating or sleeping
  7. Has physical symptoms: feels distress or pain in various parts of the body and/or has [self-inflicted] scars or bruises
  8. Talks about feeling worthless/hopeless and of death/suicide

Knowing these indicators, we now move on to how we can be of help (Note: This is no step-by-step guide that works for all situations as presented below are just some general things to keep in mind):

  1. Communicate concern and be there to listen

Tell your friend that you’re concerned about her but give her space to tell you what she is going through. Always remember to be sensitive! Express interest and ask appropriate questions but do not prod especially when your friend isn’t feeling like telling you (and that’s okay). Know and respect each others’ boundaries but intervene when necessary. More importantly, empathize but do not try to “fix” her! It might be difficult to think of what to say or how to reply, but try to acknowledge what she’s going through and validate what she is feeling. As much as possible, avoid comparing their experience to yours and don’t give advice unless asked for. 

  1. Reach out and offer help to your friend

When we’re struggling, it gets harder and harder to keep going on every day. There are periods when we just lose the motivation and energy to get out of bed and do the tasks we usually do. During these times, let’s encourage and help each other out! Reach out to your friend and show her than you genuinely care for her well-being. Plan to spend time with her — whether it’s through doing tasks or just simply hanging out but understand when she’s not feeling like it. Offer to help even in daily tasks and initiate some form of action (even in the simplest of things). As cliché this may sound, small actions can make a big difference! 

  1. Learn more about their condition

Educate yourself about what your friend is going through and the different forms and manifestations it can take. This includes but is not limited to terminologies, symptoms and treatments. Doing so can help us set our boundaries and increase our sensitivity. Moreover, this is crucial in helping us understand how we will be able to provide support and be of help to our friend.

  1. Be patient and help them find support

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Recovery is a long and difficult process thus as much as possible, support should come from numerous sources. It may get draining and frustrating especially when your friend doesn’t seem to get any better. She may also say or do things to you that she may not mean. However, this doesn’t mean you should be an emotional punching bag! Continue supporting them while also helping them find other sources of support, whether it may be through other friends or through therapy. Moreover, have hope that your friend will get better.

  1. Don’t be afraid to seek help from others (especially professionals)

Sometimes, you really just have to trust your intuition as to when intervention is needed. Know when it is time to intervene and seek the help of professionals or your friend’s family and actually do so. Do know that you aren’t alone in helping your friend and you shouldn’t be. However, there are just really situations that we cannot handle alone and there are also certain aspects such as medication that are better left to professionals. 

  1. Take care of yourself!

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Know that self-care isn’t selfish! Practicing self-care might probably be the most difficult one because being there for a friend can be draining and in our desire to help others, we may forget about ourselves. Think of yourself as a battery that cannot power a machine when drained and like certain batteries, you also need time to recharge! Learn to set boundaries and recognize that what your friend is feeling shouldn’t necessarily be yours too. Moreover, strike a balance between being there for your friend and yourself. Still find the time to recharge, rest and do the things you love. It would be much harder to take care of someone else if you’re drained yourself!

As I end this article, I want you to know that whether you are the one struggling, the one who has a struggling friend or both: you are not alone and I really cannot emphasize that enough. We’re all fighting our own battles and trying to find our way through this tough world but you don’t have to go through everything by yourself. There will always be people who are struggling but at the same time, there will also be other people and organizations (like us in Talang Dalisay) who want to and can be of help. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help or to be of help, as during these difficult times, I believe the least all of us can do is to keep going on and help each other out. 

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Image source: https://www.pinterest.ph/pin/691443349024843535/

*Visit this link if you want to learn more: https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-help-a-depressed-friend

*Here are just some numbers you can contact: 

National Center for Mental Health (24/7): 0917-989-8727

*References:

Healthline (2019). How to help a depressed friend. Retrieved from: https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-help-a-depressed-friend

Weisinger, H. (2011). When your friend is depressed… dos and donts. Retrieved from https://www.google.com.ph/amp/s/www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/thicken-your-skin/201105/when-your-friend-is-depresseddont-and-dos%3famp

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