How and When to Talk to Your Friends About Their Mental Health

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By: Anupa Mohan

When you log onto social media, chances are you’ll see quiet a few posts sharing a suicide helpline number, fol- lowed by statuses encouraging people to reach out to their friends instead of posting a number to a helpline. While mental health help lines are amazing resources, they aren’t the only resource. We, as friends and family members, can also play a key role in helping our loved one cope with suicidal thoughts, ideation, and tendencies.

But how?

Before you decide to have this conversation, ask your- self the following questions: Am I scared, angry, or resent- ful right now?
• Am I at risk of triggering my own mental unrest?
• Am I unwilling to set aside my biases and personal
If you answered yes to any of those questions, then it
is not time to have the conversation with your loved one. Your own mental health is incredibly important, after all you cannot pour from an empty cup – as the well-loved analogy goes. Additionally, harboring strong emotions and biases can create stressful tension when we dive into having such serious conversations.
Once you move past these minor roadblocks and you feel like you’re ready to have this conversation, it’s time to prepare yourself.
Preparation? I know, I know. It seems like a huge task now that I used the word “prepare”. Hear me out, when you ground and balance yourself, you’ll find it much eas- ier to connect with your loved one. You’ll also create a sense of serenity and peace.

Ground and center yourself.

Before you do anything else, make sure you’re ground- ed. Spend a few minutes deep breathing or listening to a guided meditation. Even spending a few minutes strolling through nature can be very grounding.
Remember that their pain is not your responsibility.
This is an important thing to remember, because its an easy thing to forget. When we are with our loved ones, it feels natural to shoulder their pain. Once we attach our- selves to others’ pain, it wears us down and reduces our ability to be a present, healing force in their life.
It’s alright to sympathize and understand. We can be empathetic to their pain as well but take a moment for yourself to remind yourself that this pain is not yours. It does not need to consume you or bring you down. If you choose to offer yourself as support for your friend, remember that they need your strength to heal.
Get comfortable saying the words suicide, death, de- pression, and anxiety.
Calling something by its name eliminates fear of the
thing itself. This is not to diagnose or assess your friend, no, but more so to let your friend know that they can say what they want. Shying away from the words that describe mental unrest stigmatize it, creating a more uncomfort- able situation. Ask your friend, directly, if they are suicidal or depressed. Ask them what makes them anxious or trig- ger any dark thoughts.
If you’re not scared of their feelings, it will give them an opportunity to be less scared of their own feelings and thoughts.

Fight to remove stigma

Remove stigma within yourself first by making yourself aware of every assumption you have about mental health. The more you focus on clearing your inner biases, the eas- ier it will be for you to spread positivity and remove stig- ma in your own community.
What to look for
How do you know that your friend is struggling with their mental health? Focus on non-verbal cues. It’s very easy to say “I’m fine” but our body tells a different story. Look for these subtle, but telling signs:
Neglecting personal hygiene; ie not showering, brush- ing teeth, or keeping their environment clean. Neglect- ing simple grooming; ie unkempt finger nails, unbrushed hair, any changes in grooming. Mood swings.
Changes in speech patterns; not what they say but how they say it.
Developing a poor relationship with food.
Frequent complaints about stomach aches.
Loss of interest in activities and previous interests. Changes in social responsibility; ie showing up later
than usual, cancelling plans last minute, etc.

What to do

Be direct, yet kind. Let your friend know that you think about them and worry about their wellbeing. Offer your- self as a sounding board, a shoulder to cry on. Then listen as they talk, avoid adding your opinion or perspective. When you ask a question, leave it open ended and avoid “yes” or “no” questions. Allow them to talk, to process, to feel whatever it is that they need to.
What if they stay silent? Offer your love and warmth, but make sure your compassion is genuine. Forced compas- sion can be uncomfortable. Joke around, be light hearted and casual but remind them that you are there to listen if they feel like talking about their mental unrest.
When the moment seems right, suggest therapy, mind- fulness coaching, holistic medicine; whatever you believe they will be receptive too. Long term care and constant treatment can do wonders for an individuals’ mental health.