There are some stories that can be difficult to tell. Ones of internal struggle and anguish are stories that people with a mental illness sometimes hesitate to let out, as they're deeply stigmatized by society. But if a friend opens up to you and tells you their story, it's important to know how to be there for and support them. After all, that's what friends are for.
1. Research their mental illness.
A part of being a good friend is being informed. You don't have to become an expert on any given condition, but it's a good idea to learn the basics of what your friend might be experiencing so that you can understand a little better. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has an extensive webpage of information on different conditions and the treatment and support options for each one. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America is another good resource if your friend is suffering from either of those conditions. And of course, the library is your friend. If you can't find satisfactory information online, check your school's library for some literature on your friend's specific disorder.
2. Ask them questions.
As a person with mental illness, I value the people who want to learn more about my specific disorders and how they can help. Books and websites can give you a lot of good information, but everyone is different, so if you have a question about your friend's experiences, just ask. Most people will be happy to help clear up any misconceptions.
3. Listen to them.
Sometimes, the best way to support someone with a mental illness is to listen. Don't try to "fix them." Know that you are helping by being there. There may be times when your friend just needs to talk, and though what they're saying may sound irrational to you, it isn't to them. So listen and be there for them.
4. Celebrate their successes.
Oftentimes when someone's broken leg finally heals or they're out of surgery, people take the time to celebrate. But this doesn't happen as much with mental health. Small successes are integral to getting better, and they should be recognized. So if your friend tells you about something they accomplished, realize that it's a big deal. Let yourself feel pride for them because your friend is so brave and strong to go through all of this and still be able to move forward. Show your excitement for their progress and that you know they can go even further.
It can be challenging to be friends with someone suffering from a mental illness, but the most important thing to remember is that just your trying to be there for them and understand is huge. A lot of people let stigmas guide their perceptions of their peers, but taking the time to educate yourself about what your friend is going through, and sticking by their side, is the absolute best thing you can do. It may not seem like enough at times, but being a good friend to someone with a mental illness means realizing that sometimes, you can't do everything. So you do what you can.
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