After the last hugely successful post, I have given my next slot to a great friend and my flatmate at university from last year so she can offer her words of vast wisdom. As far as mental health goes, it not only affects those who suffer from related illnesses but those around them, so I wanted to give one of them a voice here – I’m just fortunate her writing is so good! There are some great articles coming up from a varying and interesting bunch of people, so stick around!
Happy Armistice Day,
Last year, I was lucky enough to spend a year of my life sharing a flat with Pippa. It was a privilege – and not only was she a fantastic flatmate but she has taught me huge amounts about being a friend. With what little knowledge I have, I wanted to write this post for people who, like me, just want to help but don’t quite know how – and, at the same time, to let those suffering know that we want to help, but just don’t quite know how. None of us are alone.
I’m sure that I have had, and possibly still have, a whole range of misconceptions about mental health, and apologise in advance (please forgive me) for any that crop up in this post. I, like the rest of the world, admittedly have shockingly little awareness of the subject, and I can’t be more thankful to this blog and so many others for helping to give me some.
In my 21 years on this earth I have been fortunate enough never to have suffered from mental health issues. Then again, I’m no stranger to them. A whole host of my friends, relatives, loved ones, colleagues and acquaintances have struggled to cope with them – and it’s likely that over a quarter of my friends and family will at some point, if they haven’t already, have mental health problems. And I am, or will be, one of three quarters they will turn to for help.
When they do, I almost always feel under-qualified to offer it. I’m no psychiatrist, I’m no upstanding member of the community and my life experience is minimal. I don’t know how it feels to feel utterly lost in my own skin. That one time, when someone tells you they want to die, you don’t always know what to say.
The thing is, though, nobody expects you to know what to say. That friend who’s suffering does not expect essays of wisdom to suddenly put meaning into their life, you can’t out-logic their depression, you can’t make sense of it through your own eyes because the issue is theirs and nothing on this earth can make you understand. All you need to do, all you can do is be there. Listen, if and when they’re ready to talk. And if they’re not, then let them know where you are, keep an eye out, check in on them and let them do their thing. Don’t push it.
The biggest mistake that anyone makes in trying to help someone with mental health issues (that I have made countless times), is making it your personal responsibility to make things better. And by the same logic, is it never your fault on those occasions when you can’t help. As heart-breaking as the fact is, there will be – and for me, there have been – times when you just can’t help, when you can’t do enough, when you can’t see the signs. You cannot let yourself feel guilty for it. The weight of the world was never designed to rest on your shoulders.
What we can do, is be part of the wider network. Be a kind face, a thoughtful text or Facebook like to let them know we’re thinking of them, that they can come round for tea, come out for a drink or go silent for a week and we’ll still be there. We can teach our children and grandchildren to think of mental health as no more alien than physical health, and let those suffering know that it’s ok not to be fine.
Because I am not a psychiatrist – I’m a friend. Sometimes a friend is all they need.
And one day, when you need it most, they’ll be there for you.