How to talk to your friends about mental health

We rely on our friends for a lot of things. Not only do they provide great social partners, they also (should) provide us with support when we’re going through difficult times and give us a shoulder to cry on. But how often do we talk to our friends about our mental health?

There are a lot of reasons we don’t start the conversation. The number one reason is probably stigma. We’re afraid that if we tell our friends we have a mental health issue, they may judge us or think we’re “crazy.” Or we’re afraid that we’ll burden them with our problems or they’ll think we’re just complaining or looking for attention.

Whatever the reason, 2018 is the time to stop worrying about these things and talking to our friends about our mental health issues the same way we do about physical health issues.

If you break your leg, you’re going to talk to your friends about that. But if you feel really overwhelmed or sad, would you do the same thing? If you’re a girl, maybe. If you’re a guy, most likely not.

If you still aren’t comfortable talking to your friends about your own mental health issues, you might try by supporting them and keeping tabs on their mental health. Here a few tips to keep in mind:

  • You don’t have to be drinking or doing drugs to have this conversation. Movies often portray guys and girls getting drunk or high late at night and divulging their deepest darkest secrets. Nothing says you can’t talk about these things completely sober. In fact, your conversations might better because you’ll be more likely to stay on topic and provide valuable insight and support.
  • Don’t one-up. It’s human nature to want to share a story about a similar experience with people to show them that you understand. Don’t. Otherwise, the person may feel like you didn’t actually listen and instead were thinking only about yourself. Instead a good follow-up to what they share with you could be, “I understand,” “That sucks,” or “How do you feel about that?”. Watch this funny video about empathy versus sympathy and how you should always strive to be empathetic versus sympathetic. One way to do that? Avoid the words “but it could be worse”.
  • Meet the person where they’re at. Don’t offer suggestions for change unless that person wants them. If you feel like you must make a suggestion, ask the person if it’s okay to make a suggestion and honor their wishes if they say no.
  • Being a good listener and a person your friend can turn to when they need help should be your goal. You don’t have to fix their problem, unless they specifically ask you for help. You can offer to help by asking, “What can I do to help?” but sometimes the best thing to do is just listen. Sometimes people just need to hear themselves talk about the problems and find their own solutions along the way.
  • It is 100 percent okay to ask someone if they have ever felt suicidal or if they’ve ever thought about ending their life. A lot of people are afraid that if they bring it up, they will plant the idea in the person’s head. This is not true. If anything, they may want to tell you, but are unsure of how to go about it. By you bringing it up, you break the ice on the topic and give them the opportunity to talk about if they want. If your friend says they are thinking about suicide, TELL SOMEONE IMMEDIATELY. If you don’t who to talk to about that, parents (your own or your friends’), teachers, religious leaders, or another trusted adult are good people to start with. Even if your friend tells you not to tell anyone, you need to tell someone. Don’t promise them that you’ll keep secrets, because sometimes these secrets can be detrimental to their well-being. The difference could literally be life or death. You’d be surprised at how forgiving people are. If your friend is extremely suicidal, offer to call the Suicide Hotline 1800-273-8255 with them if they want.

If you want to learn more, tune into our CCPE Goes Live discussion on Friday, January 12 at 11am. You can find it on the CCPEGrant Facebook page.

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