8 Things You Can Do to Help a Friend with Mental Illness

I have depression. Sometimes I have episodes of depression that make me break down completely. I stop being able to work, to write, to read, to get out of bed, or even to maintain basic nutrition and hygiene. It’s not pretty.

I am also very lucky to have a strong support network of people who want to help me. I remember reading awhile ago about how rare and precious this support network is:

Friends talk about cancer and other physical maladies more easily than about psychological afflictions. Breasts might draw blushes, but brains are unmentionable. These questions are rarely heard: “How’s your depression these days?” “What improvements do you notice now that you have treatment for your ADD?” “Do you find your manic episodes are less intense now that you are on medication?” “What does depression feel like?” “Is the counseling helpful?” A much smaller circle of friends than those who’d fed us during cancer now asked guarded questions. No one ever showed up at our door with a meal.

killIt’s far more common for people to want to pretend my depression (and depression in general) doesn’t exist than to want to talk about it, so it’s a beautiful thing in itself that people are talking to me.

But I was unintentionally being uncooperative. People are asking how they can help, and I keep telling them they can’t help. Nothing will make me better. Ever. That’s what my depression tells me is true. But it’s not true.

In the spirit of meeting my support network halfway, I’ve made a list of things that do help. I was going to post it privately on Facebook, but I thought it might also be useful to people out there in the wide world who want to support their friends with mental illnesses but don’t know how.

Here are some things that are helpful right now:

1. Positive messages on Facebook, cheerleading for my new full-time job of going to doctors’ appointments, pictures and videos of goats being all goaty and wonderful, nice emails, etc.

2. Telling me all about your day and your life, and not expecting much from me about mine. I spend all day in bed and go to work in my PJs right now. There’s not much to tell. But I do want to hear about you.

3. Sending me snail mail. I will try to send things back.

4. Visiting, provided you are comfortable sitting around quietly, making some art, crocheting, or just hanging while I mope.

5. Cooked meals.

6. Help keeping my apartment clean.

7. Telling me neat things you learned about the neuroscience and sociology of depression. But please stick to information because advice can be overwhelming when I already have a team of mental health professionals working on me.

8. Visiting me when I get locked up in crazy people jail. If you haven’t heard from me for awhile, check with Dan and he can tell you whether I’m locked up or not.

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