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To Anyone Who Has Asked How to Help When I'm Struggling

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Dear Faithful Friend,

Friends can be an invaluable source of support for anyone struggling with mental illness. Thank you for noticing when things aren’t quite right and caring enough to ask, “What can I do to help?” I know sometimes you can feel a little helpless, as though there’s nothing you can do to make things better. Well, firstly, let me reassure you of this: you are already being helpful just by listening.

When you ask that question, I often don’t know how to respond. It’s not because I don’t want your help, but because I don’t know what will help.

And sometimes I’m scared to confront the question, “What if no one can help me?” But recently I’ve had clarity over what it is that makes all the difference when I’m having a low day or my mind is racing with disordered and dysfunctional thoughts. Not everyone will want or need the same kind of support I describe below, but for me personally, and perhaps for you or your friend, this is the answer you’ve been waiting for when you asked, “What can I do to help?”

1) Ask

Find out where I’m at. Find out what’s going on in my head. Ask me what thoughts are filling my mind. They may be spilling over into my behavior; they may be quiet and unassuming. I may or may not recognize them as negative or dysfunctional.

For example – “How are your heart and your head? What is your mind dwelling on at the moment?”

2) Deconstruct

Rationalise my thoughts. Question the voices. Point out the things that don’t make sense. Show me which thoughts are lies and give me objective evidence wherever possible. Help me see the bigger picture.

For example – “Where has this thought/belief come from? How trustworthy is your source?”

3) Reconstruct

Tell me truths. Speak out verbal antidotes to my disordered beliefs. Give me alternative voices to listen to. Wherever possible, show me tangible evidence that these things are true so that the disorder cannot refute them.

For example – “How do you think someone else might see you/this situation? You are not [insert negative belief], you are [insert positive truth], for example [insert concrete example].”

4) Persevere

I probably won’t believe you. I might even argue back. I might be able to logically understand that some thoughts are dysfunctional and destructive but they still feel as real as ever inside. Don’t disregard my disordered beliefs – some are not completely irrational and they certainly do not feel irrational. I need as many voices of reason as possible.

For example – “It must be really hard for you to think of yourself in that way. I am still certain that this belief of yours is a lie because [more concrete examples], but even if it were true, what would happen if you chose to ignore it?”

Thank you for being wonderful. If ever you are struggling, let me know what I can do to help.


Grateful Friend

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Image by Sam Taylor Wedding Photography

Originally published: February 14, 2017
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