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Supporting a friend going through a mental health struggle

A Young Champion, Rachel McGrath, provides some advice on how to support a friend struggling with their mental health. 

In my opinion, there are three key things to focus on when helping support someone going through a difficult time. The first is letting that person know you're there for them: to talk, to listen, to guide, to help. You want to get them to express their feelings without pressure or force, because when they don't want to talk – they won't. This can then become frustrating as you wonder why they won't talk to you. It may just be because they're still finding their feelings confusing, and not understanding themselves why they feel like that. Allow them space, but always let them know it's alright to share how they feel and that you won't judge them for anything. 

I think the second point is not trying to tell them how they feel and what they should do all the time, taking too much control over them. This can happen despite all you’re wanting to do is help them. It might seem like you know what is necessary, but that may not be what they need at the time and showing them that you're understanding them in the best way possible is important.

I have had personal experience helping support someone very close to me through the hardest days and challenges. She has often said it's great how much I understand her, and I think this comes from listening to all she has to say and then responding in a way best suited to the situation, not focusing on one part more than the other. As long as the support you give matches the needs of the friend, family member, or whoever it may be, then that will always be the best thing at the time. For example, if you know that meditation is a good time out for them, then, when stress arises, sit and do some with them. It's simple things like this that can really make the difference when connecting to someone. 

The final of the three key points, I believe, is keeping up a positive attitude. Doing this alongside reminding them of the good things, either in their life already or what they can look forward to in the future, can help. A reassurance that, no matter how hard it gets or may seem, there are always other ways to help yourself and move forward from those emotions – this is essential too. It is easier to support someone if you can see the light – even when they can't.

A positive attitude isn't just for the person you're helping though. Sometimes you can hear some really difficult things and it can be emotional. You don't want yourself to end up suffering whilst trying to help someone, so it’s important that you feel happy within yourself and I always find I come out of situations better due to the positive view I hold behind everything. Of course, this can be hard, but by ensuring you have time for you and you are enjoying yourself, you'll feel better when next facing hardship. Every situation is going to be different, so don't worry if one thing you know worked well for someone else isn't helping the person you know – it will happen. When you find good activities or ways of helping deal with the difficulties they face, that's great, and make sure you can (and do) apply these in your lives. However, never hesitate to try something new. You don't know if there is another method or technique which could be perfect for them. In my situation, my friend found creating positive notes and printing pictures and then displaying them in a pretty way helpful, and, once again, a good reminder for her of the good there is. 

On My Mind is a new website that aims to empower young people to make informed choices about their mental health and wellbeing. The pages were co-produced by young people to help other young people. The pages include Helping Someone Else, which has some tips and advice for young people.