Caring for a Friend with Mental Illness


Caring for a Friend with Mental Illness
We can all agree there are times in life when taking a meal immediately comes to mind. When a new mom is taking care of a baby or when a neighbor is grieving are common examples. There are also times when we might not think to take a meal, but in actuality, a meal would be an encouragement.
I wrote a blog post a few years ago with a list of "other" times when a meal could be helpful and three items on the list were anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. After that blog post, I received many kind emails from people who love someone affected by mental illness or who struggle personally. The people who wrote were glad to be "seen", as mental health struggles are often kept more private.
I recently read an article about how to encourage a friend with mental illness written by Marilyn Hunt, someone who has walked this road herself (Just Between Us, Fall 2020). My favorite resources about caring for others always seem to be written by someone who has experienced a difficult situation personally and offers insight to increase my compassion.
In her article, Marilyn points out that if a friend mentions her mental health issues to you, it's a gift. Women are often ashamed and keep this struggle hidden, so when this topic is offered freely, you have an opportunity to reach out in a helpful way.
Here are a few tips from Marilyn to help you care for your friend:
  • Let your friend know you care about her and show her you want to continue the friendship. Check in with her now and then to see how she is doing.
  • Allow times where you don't discuss her struggles, but instead enjoy being together and grab a coffee. Show her she is accepted and can be herself with you.
  • Be a good listener and keep the information she shares with you confidential. When there is mutual trust, share your own ups and downs.
  • When she's struggling, send a text, email, or card. See if a meal, babysitting, or folding laundry would be helpful.
  • If she's having a particularly hard day, ask her what would help the most. Offer to stop by for a visit as seeing someone in person can be such an encouragement.
  • Be sure not to offer solutions or see medication as a weakness. Medication is a tool that can help with depression, anxiety, etc.
None of us are immune from mental health challenges and they may come upon us at different stages of life. One woman might enjoy the newborn stage while another can have postpartum depression. One woman might have an easy transition to menopause while another might struggle with anxiety for several years preceding that time. Caring for aging parents may bring on a never before experienced depression or it may deepen a battle that has been constant. Not one of us knows for certain if or when we may struggle. Let's take away the shame and replace it with honest conversation and support for one another when these times come.
I love how Marilyn ends her article by saying whether the friendship is casual or close, it's a privilege to have friendships and to grow in our understanding of others through them. It's okay if you don't do it perfectly or always say just the right thing; your desire to care may make both of your lives more beautiful.
Photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez

Read other recent articles by Adina Bailey:

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Adina & Maureen
Adina & Maureen

Welcome! We're thrilled you stopped by. Our own joys and sorrows have taught us that a well-timed meal delivered by a friend is one of the best gifts imaginable. In this space, we share our favorite recipes to take to friends, meal-taking tips, and other ways to care for those who are dear to you.

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