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How to be a good friend to anyone with mental health issues

What to do, and what absolutely not to do

Having poor mental health is obviously shit and difficult in a number of ways – not in the least the impact that it has on friendship. It isn't easy to maintain friendships when you aren't mentally well, and it's equally difficult to maintain a friendship with someone who is mentally unwell. Here are some tips for how to support your pals if they're struggling with their mental health.

Be understanding

Remember how in Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore was always there, and none of his friends expected him to be happy – they just accepted how he was? That's the best role model for helping a mentally ill friend, possibly ever. It's not easy, but it's kind of the most crucial part of being supportive. People with mental illnesses may say and do shocking things – things that you might find upsetting, and that they might not necessarily recognise as being upsetting to anyone around them. At then end of the day, you just have to be understanding and supportive through it – because it is all that can really be done.

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It's really difficult to listen to someone that you love speaking negatively about themselves, and watching someone you love be unhappy, but you just have to be there with them through it. Don't undermine how they feel by saying things like "oh, but you have such a good life, you have so much going for you" – while it might sound nice, it can actually just make people feel guilty about how crap they already feel.

And while it seems that every crevice of the internet is advocating to solve depression by just getting up and smiling and dancing, in reality, that's a fucking crazy thing to tell a depressed person to do. Encourage them to leave the house – but take baby steps.

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It's also important to try to understand when they aren't able to do things normally. If your flatmate is depressed, don't scream at them because they haven't done their dishes – understand that they aren't being lazy or inconsiderate, they're just struggling, and that's okay.

It's also really important to be understanding when they withdraw for a bit. It's difficult, and can be hurtful when people seem like they don't want to spend time with you, but there's few things worse than being ridiculed for not spending time with people when you are physically or mentally incapable. Understand how difficult these things can be, and that it isn't about you.

Socialise outside of clubbing or going to the pub

As great as Garibaldi's is, there is a limit to what a Gari's Special can solve. Suggest doing something that isn't just drinking and dancing in a sweaty club – because let's be honest, whose serotonin is that boosting? Move away from clubs and campus, and make plans to go and explore somewhere that you don't normally go. It's a cliche, but a change of scenery can do a world of difference, even if it's just for a few hours.

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Just look how happy a day out can make a girl

There is a limit to what you can do

The quicker that you accept that you are someone's friend and not their therapist, the better – because if you try and adopt that role, it will wreck your friendship. Once that line gets blurred, it's incredibly hard to make your way back. It's understandable, because a good friend will want to be supportive and help any way they can – but while that is a good thing, you can't be overly dependent on your friends because it gets messy, quickly. Be supportive and empathetic – but remember you aren't responsible for anyone's mental health.

Be there

Simple as. You don't have to be a 24-hour helpline, but be present, be understanding, and just be there to listen.

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Pals who cuddle together stay together