Mental Health: How to Support a Friend in Crisis

Jul 28, 2023
Jasper Thornfield
Mental Health: How to Support a Friend in Crisis

Understanding Their World: Empathizing with a Friend's Mental Crisis

It was a sunny afternoon, an ideal time for a cup of Joe in the park with a good book. But for me, Jasper, it was the time I vividly recall when my friend, Jessica, reached out to me about her mental struggles. It's been three years now; however, the gravity of the situation remains fresh in my memory. For weeks, she wore an unwavering guise of happiness, when she was, in fact, grappling with a terrible mental crisis. Everyone around her was completely clueless about the depth of her emotional turmoil. It dawned on me then, the significance and necessity of understanding the world around us, especially our friends, who could be weathering an unwitnessed storm.

The chaotic rhythm of daily life often cripples us from seeing beyond the semblance we put up, and a mental crisis only amplifies the disguises. Comprehending this Gordian knot called 'mental health' allowed me to realize that the common 'I am fine' is a far cry from the individual's true state. Sadly, like me, many of us fail at digging deeper beyond these surface-level indications. Our unconscious negligence, sometimes mistaken for respect for friends' privacy, often leaves our struggling friends in the lurch, desperately fraying at the edges, unseen, unheard.

Navigating the Unfamiliar: How to Recognise a Friend’s Crisis

How often have we been oblivious to a friend’s subtle cries for help, simply because we weren’t equipped enough to identify them? Countless times! But that is a pattern we need to break. To support a friend during a mental health crisis, you have to first identify that they are in one. It is crucial to look out for some common signs, like a drastic change in behaviour, constantly feeling low, a dip in their self-esteem, a helplessness which was earlier non-existent, an obvious loss in interest in their favourite activities, and instances of self-harm. Remember, these aren't checkboxes to tick, but guideposts to point to an issue that might need some addressing.

Remember the time when your friend cancelled on a long-planned outing citing an unforeseen 'busy schedule', or when they spent unusual amounts of time in solitude, away from the crowd they once loved? Alarm bells should have rung then! These are often ways friends facing a mental health crisis express their helplessness without directly addressing it, hoping someone catches on.

Being There: Comforting a Friend During their Crisis

So, when Jessica reached out and finally confided in me her turbulent mental state, my first reaction was of – surprise, surprise – shock. It wasn’t easy. The journey was long, tangled, and often overwhelming. But we walked it together. A crucial factor I learned during this journey was the importance of my mere presence. Just being there for a friend going through a crisis holds more value than any words of consolation or advice. It’s essentially about creating a safe space for them to expose their vulnerability without fear of judgement. Emphasising 'I'm here for you', sometimes literally, takes some weight off their shoulders. It reassures them there's place free from ridicule or judgement reserving for them to explore, articulate, and accept their emotions freely.

Another key takeaway from my experience was the adverse effects of unwanted advice. I'll admit, I was guilty of this initially. I was naïve enough to believe that I had to (and could) 'fix' Jessica. But, let's get something straight - you're not a super-hero with magic powers. Your friend isn't 'broken' for you to fix. Your role, instead, is to guide them through resources or professionals who are better equipped to help them through their crisis effectively.

Speak Up: Encouraging Conversations about Mental Health

Encourage your friends to talk openly about their mental health. Create an environment around them where they feel comfortable to express their thoughts and feelings, no matter how dark or disturbing they may be. Make conversations about mental health as normal as discussing the latest movie or football match. It mustn’t be a topic only spoken in hushed tones. Instead, encouraging open conversations about mental health challenges and overcoming the societal stigma associated with them can be empowering and often act as the first step towards healing.

The emphasis on creating a safe space for open and non-judgmental conversation about mental health can never be overestimated. It is during these heart-to-heart conversations that we as friends get insights into their troubles, their highs and lows, their dreams and fears - aspects they might be unwilling to share with a mental health professional initially. And remember, during these chats, our role should strictly be that of an active listener - comforting, empathising, and understanding, avoiding any unsolicited advice or judgement. When they would be ready to take the next step, they will let us know.

Every one of us knows someone who has experienced a mental health issue, a story we keep under wraps, feared and stigmatised. It's about time we falter those walls of stigma and extend our support, love, and acceptance to our friends. Being open, approachable, and showing sensitivity can indeed make a difference. Who knows, this might even save a life or inject a newfound hope in someone, like Jessica, who is stuck in a perennially lonely and disheartening spiral. So, while you can enjoy your latest Netflix binge-watch session or lose yourself in an exciting football match, remember, your friend might be battling their inner demons. Acknowledge their struggle, offer help if you can, and always remember to be kind. As for me, the journey I embarked upon with Jessica truly changed my life, giving me a deeper understanding of mental health, a perspective that made me stronger and hopefully, a better friend!