Friends in need

A few days ago I was chatting online to a friend, on MSN. She told me that things weren’t great at the moment because she is trying to support her friend through a tough time but trying to help her friend was getting her down. At the time of chatting to her, she told me she was crying because she was affected by her friend’s issues and she felt helpless, like she couldn’t make her friend happy no matter how hard she tried and she didn’t know the right way to support her.

It made me wonder, when do you draw the line? Being a good friend and supporting your friends through a tough time is important. But so is your own mental health.

I’ve experienced all three perspectives. I’ve been the friend who’s going through a tough time. I’ve been the one supporting a friend, who at the time was experiencing quite severe depression. I’ve been the friend who’s on the outside watching a friend try to help another friend through their issues.

Despite these experiences, I still feel like I’m in the dark on what to do in these situations. Do you try and help your friend no matter what the cost of your own mental health? Do you say ‘enough is enough’ when it all gets too much, and run the risk losing your friend?

My friend didn’t tell me the details of the situation that her friend is in, but just told me enough so that I knew that her friend has been really sad for a couple of months and that she has been trying to help and support her friend through this. I gave her advice based on what she told me, as I didn’t have the complete picture of what was going on. I told her that she can’t MAKE her friend be happy, as she cannot fix her friend’s problems for her, but just being there, listening and showing that she cares is enough even if she can’t always find the right words.

I don’t feel like I gave good advice. But reading through her blog, (she doesn’t know I have the link to her blog and she doesn’t know I have a blog too- I told her I don’t have one. SO not keen on friends finding out about my mental health problems through here, which happened last time) she wrote that talking to me encouraged her to keep listening to her friend and that getting it out and talking to me about it made her feel better. So maybe my advice wasn’t so bad after all, and doing what I advised her to do ie. be there to listen, is really all that’s needed.

My friend texted me on Friday and said that her friend is doing better now, which I was glad to hear.

What happens though, when things don’t turn out so well?

In year 12 I had a friend, T, who had severe depression. I was in a number of her classes and when she got upset, a lot of the time she would just walk out of class which made us worry and it meant that we’d have to go look for her. In one of our classes, the teacher even asked that whenever T left the class, even if it was just to the bathroom, I followed behind to make sure she was okay.

I also remember texting her, asking her if she was okay. Receiving a text message back from her saying that she wasn’t okay and everything was shit right now. These text messages were sent while I was in the waiting room of the GP I was about to see, about my own mental health issues (self harm and eating disorder behaviours).

At the time seeing my friend go through depression did affect me. Seeing her unhappy and trying to support her got me down too and when my mood goes down, self harm is also likely to increase. Not to mention the jealousy I was feeling, that she seemed to get so much more support than me, while for years I had struggled in silence with my own mental health problems. Though to be fair, she did help me in writing a couple of letters to me and it was helpful to hear about her experiences of seeing a psychologist and GP, before I had my first appointments.

I didn’t really catch up with T after we left high school, but after we left I know that she took an OD and ended up in a mental health clinic for the forth time. However, currently she seems to be doing a lot better than she was in year 12.

Both T and I were friends with W. W knew about T’s depression and tried to help, but got a bit fed up with it towards the end of the year. W was also the first friend that I told in years about my self harm, my purging and seeing the school counsellor and going to see a GP and psychiatrist.

I knew what trying to support T was doing to me and I didn’t want to do the same to W. At the same time I needed that someone to talk to, that friend to confide in, someone who wasn’t a professional or my parents, who didn’t and still don’t understand.

I think there are no easy answers when a friend is going through some tough times and needs you to be there for them.

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