Mental illness has physical repercussions, not unlike other ailments. When a friend suffers from a mental illness, reach out the same way you would if she had the flu, a critical diagnosis or a surgery.
Here are some suggestions of ways you can accompany a friend on the journey.
1) If you think mental illness is a matter of weak will or a defect of character, inform yourself. Read a book or watch a movie.
Writer William Styron’s memoir of mental illness,
Styron did not experience depression until late in life, so he is able to reflect on his lack of compassion prior to his own diagnosis. He wrote,
“Depression is a disorder of mood, so mysteriously painful and elusive in the way it becomes known to the self -- to the mediating intellect-- as to verge close to being beyond description. It thus remains nearly incomprehensible to those who have not experienced it in its extreme mode.”
A little reading goes a long way in creating empathy and understanding.
For an extensive list of memoirs by people with mental illness, click
If you prefer movies,“Silver Linings Playbook" is an excellent portrayal of bipolar depression. The scene in the movie “The Hours,” when Julianne Moore tries to bake a cake, is a great example of how depression can make everyday tasks insurmountable.
2) A person in the throes of mental illness has low confidence and is unlikely to ask for help. Saying, “Let me know if I can do anything,” is vague and noncommittal. Be proactive.
- Drop by with a healthy meal. Sick people don’t cook.
- Help your friend navigate her insurance website, finding a psychiatrist or counselor on her plan who isn’t too far away. A depressed or anxiety-ridden person has trouble focusing and insurance websites can bring the healthiest person to tears.
- Offer to drive her to the doctor. Again, she has trouble focusing.