We know that sometimes it's hard to know what to do or how to help if someone's struggling with their mental health. Everyone can act differently when they're going through a tough time! Sometimes people find it difficult to talk openly about how they’re feeling, for example. So we think the best thing you can do to support your friends is to be the best version of yourself!
Support your friends by being a good role model yourself
Think about your closest friends. Are you similar? Do you enjoy the same things, have similar hobbies or interests? Our closest relationships affect us more than we know – often even subconsciously!
”We tend to get in on our friends’ healthy habits as well as their less healthy ones,” says journalist and author Kate Leaver, who believes that friendship is the essential cure for anxiety and ill-health. She even wrote a best-seller on the topic called The Friendship Cure. ”That’s why things like diets can be so contagious - people so often feel like they want to copy the lifestyle choices of the people around them.”
In fact, studies show that people do gravitate towards the exercise and nutrition tendencies of those in their social circles: you’re much more likely to exercise if your friends do too! And you’re five times more likely to eat healthier if you have friends who make smart dietary choices, according to the book Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford To Live Without by researcher Tom Rath.
So, encouraging your friends to adopt a healthy lifestyle – by making healthy choices yourself about nutrition and exercise – is one good way to support your friends’ wellbeing. We all know how easy it is to make less healthy choices: skipping that exercise day, opting for an extra glass of wine instead of heading home, or wallowing alone instead of meeting a friend. But instead, try sticking to a healthy routine and encouraging your friend to do the same – for example by focusing on how you feel after your workout, or after a good night’s sleep, or after hanging out with a friend. Chances are these are things that uplift your mood. If you can motivate yourself to prioritise positive choices, chances are your friends will follow!
Prioritise time & energy for your loved ones
Checking in on a friend is a simple and great way to show support. But busy lifestyles can consume a lot of energy and distract us from investing energy into our family and friends. Even though many of us struggle with time, we should try to make time for the things that matter most to us – like our relationships!
We can get better at navigating our busy lives by planning our time more effectively: try splitting your day into chunks of WORK TIME – PLAY/CONNECT TIME – REST TIME and stick to it as much as possible.
Another good tip is to set reminders in your phone to call your friends – treat it like any other obligation or event in your calendar you can’t ‘snooze’!
Don’t wait for others to call. Pick up the phone & propose a date
While it’s easy to think your friend who’s not replying to your messages might just not want to hear from you, it could be that they are going through a tough time and self-isolating. In that case, a little extra pushiness might be a good thing! After all, you will never regret a call.
“Good, close friends make us feel as though we belong (as do our neighbours, colleagues and more casual mates),” Leaver told us. “And I cannot overestimate how vital that sense of community is for our sense of self and identity and sanity and confidence and wellbeing. I really believe that proactive, genuine acts of friendship improve individual lives but also, when you stitch all of those acts and connections together, make society better.”
What to look out for in a friend who needs support
According to mental health charity Mind.org, some of the ways people who need help might act differently are: seeming distant, or not themselves, not meeting up or responding to messages as much as normal, talking about feelings that worry you, or saying 'I can't do it any more', not doing things they normally like, or not taking care of themselves physically.
What should I say?
Finding the right way to ask if your friend is okay and to start talking to your friend about how they're feeling can be difficult. But really, there's no wrong way to begin and however you do it, they'll probably just appreciate you're trying. Mind.org has some good conversation starters on their website if you need a prompt to get started. Some examples are: ‘Hey, I'm here for you if you want to talk’, 'You've not seemed like yourself lately. How are you?', 'I'm worried about you. Is there anything you want to talk about?' We think any small act of support is better than nothing!