*If you're concerned about someone's safety, please check out these tips by MIND. Please recognise your limitations and seek assistance is required.*
“How can I show someone that I’m here for them?”
I’ve been asked this question a few times recently, and it seems fitting to finish off Mental Health Awareness Month by attempting to answer it.
Someone is struggling and you feel powerless as you watch them. Maybe you’ve already tried the classic, “I’m here for you”, to no avail. Maybe those words make you feel powerless.
It can be so painful to watch someone slip underwater and not know how to tug them back out.
That’s not to say you’re responsible for them, but that you want to help them, you want to ease this heavy burden just a bit, just for a moment.
So how can you show them that you’re here for them?
What immediately comes to mind is a situation I had with a close friend a few months ago.
My depression had reached a real low point. I was exhausted from the moment I woke up, simply drifting through my days and my bedroom had become almost a metaphor for this.
There were clothes everywhere, an overflowing bin, sheets that needed a wash, and much more. I was managing to hold it together in every other part of my life, and my room was where the battery drained. I couldn’t find the willpower to tidy it up, but seeing it every day was only worsening my emotional turmoil.
One day my friend offered to help clean my room. I felt ashamed of my mess and immediately tried to decline. She gently stopped me, and told me, "Don't be embarrassed. You're struggling, and maybe this is how I can help".
She had been watching me spiral into my darkness and felt unable to help me. She didn’t have the words, she didn’t have a cure, but she had a knack for cleaning and the compassion to help me.
It was “I’m here for you” but translated into a language she felt comfortable with. It was “I’m here for you” in a way that I could hold on to. It was more than words.
This made me realise that we don’t need the big answers, as there aren’t any. It’s the small, concrete moments. While “I’m here for you” is lovely, it’s too fine a thread to cling to. So be there for them in small, daily ways.
Before you run to grab your mop and sponge, take a moment to consider whether this is your way of saying these words.
This was the perfect way for my friend to reach me, especially as we live together and she was witnessing my descent. But it doesn’t have to be the way you handle things. Also it might not be the way your loved one struggles with their depression. They might be living in a pristine room and yet feeling worse than ever.
This is just one way to help someone, but not the only way.
Here are some more suggestions:
Are they feeling overwhelmed by an appointment they need to make? Are they overwhelmed with the amount on their plate? You can offer to help generally, but I’ve found that a specific offer is much easier to accept. So see what they need and tell them you want to help, and insist that you want to do this.
Part of my messy room was a pile of clothes I needed to return. I have a tendency to online shop for serotonin releases, and that’s all well and good until I need to return these spontaneous purchases and somehow leave my home.
Errands can feel small on a good day and overwhelming on a bad day. Offer to join them on their errands, so it feels less daunting and you get to spend time with them.
The idea of going out for dinner or spending a whole day together could be overwhelming. Depression, emotional burnout, and other mental health issues tend to drain your energy. So suggest short meetings with a definitive end or that require less social input from them.
Meet for a cup of coffee somewhere, or for a short walk. Alternatively, go to the cinema together so it’s less of a social requirement but still time with someone who loves them.
You have the best of intentions, and I don’t doubt that in the slightest! But you don’t want them to agree to see you to avoid hurting your feelings.
Remind them that they can decline or suggest an alternative, even if this seems obvious to you. And more importantly, prepare yourself for this option. Don’t say they have this choice and then resent them for taking it.
Depression drains you of your passion. As you might guess, I am a writer at heart, it’s the thing I love most in the world. That’s how I knew that my depression had gotten out of hand last summer. I no longer wanted to write. Not just articles, I didn’t even want to work on my novel, my greatest love! When I realised this, I made an appointment to get back to therapy, as this was scary.
Help them back to the things they love, as these might feel overwhelming or out of reach right now. If they like crafts, then plan a painting session for the two of you. If they like cooking, then try to make dumplings or another dish together.
When I’m in my bad place, I find social situations to be exhausting. But sometimes I also don’t want to be alone. In these moments, I’ll come to the kitchen when my flatmate is cooking and just sit near her. I just want the company, the reminder that I’m not alone and my dark thoughts don’t have to win today.
Suggest simply being together and reiterate that it doesn’t have to be extremely social. Maybe you could binge-watch a TV show together and only mention characters you don’t like. Maybe you can read your books next to each other in silence.
Your presence can be enough without talking. It’s an anchor back to who they are, and a reminder that they’re not alone.
Don’t let them finish that apology. Because then they’ll believe this, and they’ll feel like a burden to you. Make sure they know that you want to be here with them, even if it’s in silence, even if it’s doing errands.
They don’t need a reason to feel like this, no one would choose to struggle with mental illness. While this is rational, it’s hard to remember this when you’re the one struggling. Something the best thing you can do for someone is remind them that it’s not their fault and they don’t need a reason.
Sometimes this will also involve discussing difficult things. They might benefit from speaking to a trained professional if they’re not already, and it might be worth approaching this subject if you feel comfortable.
It all comes down to intention. For my friend, that was offering to help clean my personal space so I could reset and try again. For others, it’s sending that small daily message. Find what works for you and the people you love.
And know that your intention shines through. You want to help them, and that’s what matters more than anything else.
You can’t fix their problems. No walks or painting sessions can cure mental illness. But you can be there for them and help to carry the burden even for an hour. Make sure to also look after yourself and check in with your needs.
Helping someone who is struggling doesn’t have to be a huge declaration or constantly discussing their issues (unless they want that); it can be the small things. You’re there for them, so just find a way to help them see that.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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