How to help mates who suffer from depression and anxiety

April 09, 2015
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Depression and anxiety are difficult mental illnesses that affect individuals in different ways. Not only does mental illness impact the sufferer, but it also impacts those around them who can feel overwhelmed by constantly trying to help without knowing how to do so in the best possible way.

I’m on the recovering end of both illnesses and also happen to have a phenomenal group of mates around me. The biggest lesson I’ve taken away from my journey? Friends can always help. Here’s how.

Don’t be afraid to ask if everything’s OK

It’s important to understand that those who suffer from depression and anxiety often just want to feel like they’ve been heard. Sometimes just asking your friend if everything’s OK or asking how they’re doing can provide a sense of relief.

When I was first diagnosed, I found it refreshing to have a clinical name put to what I was experiencing. This didn’t mean, however, that the emotions I experienced were any less intense. Once I told my close friends what was happening, they felt inclined to check up on me. Knowing that I had that support made my recovery far easier.

Being left alone is also important

As much as people who suffer from these illnesses appreciate knowing their friends are supporting them, sometimes being badgered to tell others what is wrong can be stressful and cause people to lash out in ways they ordinarily wouldn’t.

Be sure to ask them how they’re going and all that, but just remember that they need space to get through this.

Repetition is key

I’m a serial offender of palming off people’s advice because “they don’t really understand what I’m going through”. While they might not have the mental health expertise to understand the complexities of what I’m experiencing, it’s not really fair for me to dismiss someone who’s just trying to help. I can’t tell you the amount of times my friends told me everything would be OK. They also told me not to stress. The more they said it, the more I listened and the easier it got.

It’s OK for you to call people out

An irritating stigma attached to depression and anxiety is that these mental illnesses make the sufferer blameless for all their actions. As someone who has gone through it all, I don’t think this is always true.

One of the greatest ways my friends have contributed to my recovery is by telling me when I’m acting like an idiot regardless of whether my behaviour has anything to do with my mental illness of not. For example, I used to, and on occasion still do, feel like all my mates secretly don’t like me despite evidence suggesting otherwise. Now, if I ever voice these concerns without any real proof, they just tell me to shut up and it works a charm.

Above all else, just be a mate

Sounds pretty basic, but it’s so vital to helping a friend on the road to recovery. Continue your friendship as normal by grabbing a beer and catching a movie if this is what you enjoy doing together. Why? It will temporarily distract your friend from depression and anxiety in a positive way. Not only can this improve happiness, but it can also show them that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Even if they don’t ever recover from their mental illness, they might start to realise that with the help and support of friends, they don’t have to go it alone.

Jackson Langford

Jackson is studying a Bachelor of Communication degree at the University of Newcastle and is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne.

Image: Sander van der Wel, Flickr Creative Commons license