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Sean’s experience with helping a friend: supporting others

Thank you Sean for your moving and heartfelt piece.

It was the second night of the long-awaited holiday with my mates, when I found my best friend sitting half over our 5th story balcony. My friend suffered from depression, and had done for many years, and unfortunately on that night his girlfriend broke up with him and so, as he often did, he drank.

That night and for many nights to come, he spent it crying and feeling awful about himself. We managed to keep him safe and look after him, but it still was not a pretty picture for him.

The next few days, as I am sure you can imagine, my mate had the face like ‘a bag of spanners’. However, whilst he did not leave that holiday a jolly, remarkably fixed man, he left being much closer to his friends, in particular me his roommate. Several years later and he and I are as close as two friends can be, largely stemming from the late-night conversations and hugging sessions which took place during that holiday. I am also pleased to report that currently he in a much better place mentally than he was. During the trip, to the best of my limited ability, I supported him through his struggles and his heartbreak. I am obviously no trained professional, but the simple act of lending an ear and showing sympathy from my experience did do the world of good.

One of the common barriers to helping someone is the feeling of an inadequacy or inability to help them.

One of the surprising things that I noticed after this experience was how much better helping my friend made me personally feel. It was a special sensation to connect with my friend on a deep level, to know that I had helped someone at their lowest moment and see the progress my friend has made since this point.

Often, we are told to help others because it is the “right thing to do”. This is obviously not wrong, but I feel as though the benefits to one’s self for supporting a loved one is massively underrated. Not only should we support other people’s mental health because it is the morally virtuous thing to do, but also it is a good thing for ourselves to do. The person you are aiding will also likely be full of gratitude for you, and that to be honest feels pretty darn awesome. And whilst you should not support a friend simply to gain their support back, it will often lead to this and that can also be really helpful down the road, particularly if you are suffering from issues yourself.

One of the common barriers to helping someone is the feeling of an inadequacy or inability to help them. After all, you are not a mental health expert, how would you know how to help someone with their unique mental health situation? With this though, there are two points to be made.

Firstly, is that by simply showing the effort to support someone, to remind them that people care about them and that you are there to listen is always invaluable. One of the most common feelings of those suffering from mental health struggles is a feeling of isolation or loneliness. Therefore, by simply making the effort, they will appreciate it and you in turn. Even if you are not able to give much in the way of advice or reassurance, simply being there for your loved one to release their emotions and know someone is listening to their situation will help.

After all, it is their struggle and everyone’s struggles are different and unique.

Secondly, is that there is a ton of support to help you support your loved ones. For example, Mind has a handy page which gives general advice, along with mental health specific illness related information to aid you (https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/helping-someone-else/). This is a great resource and I highly recommend using it. There are also lots of other resources online for you to use, so if you feel like you are lacking a level of knowledge around a particular mental illness, then you should be able to find the relevant information to help them. Moreover, sufferers often know themselves how they want you to help them, so don’t be afraid of asking them. After all, it is their struggle and everyone’s struggles are different and unique.

Helping people with their mental health issues is not always easy but it is one of the most rewarding things you can do, in my opinion. Spending much of my holiday talking to my friend about his depression would be possibly seen as a somewhat depressing or distressing experience but honestly it felt so good to be able to make even a small, if slightly clumsy, difference. Whilst we all lead busy lives with our own issues and problems, I promise you that if you sit down every once in while with someone struggling and just listen to them, you will not feel as though you have wasted your time and will feel better about yourself and others.

Posted on: 21st October 2020

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