Written By Ankita Srinivasan (Grade 12)
How can I be more supportive of my friends who are mentally not ok? This is an often asked question since awareness on mental health has increased over the past few years. And this question does not have any fixed answer. Each human is different and reacts differently to each situation and word. And the mind is a complex thing. Different things can be fathomed differently. Therefore I have tried to compile ways in which I feel we can make our friends and acquaintances feel better about their own mental problems.
First of all, do not stigmatize mental illnesses and problems. By that, I mean do not attach ‘pre-decided facts’ that may or may not be true to these people. They are human just like you and me, and attaching prejudices and stigmas to them makes them feel left out and even worse about a situation they had no control over. Do not make stigmatized slurs or insulting statements either casually or on purpose. You never know who is suffering from what, and hurting them even unintentionally can be avoided by speaking with care about a topic that is as sensitive as this.
Another way is by actually observing keenly. For example, if you find that your best friend is withdrawing from activities that they usually like or find a drop in their performance consistently, they might be going through a rough patch. And as a friend, approaching them is a good option as long as they are comfortable about opening up to you. But, if they do not wish to talk about it, insisting that they talk right then and there is not advisable. Instead, trying to coax it out of them in a gentle manner over a period of time would be a better approach. Respect their wishes and their boundaries, don’t try to force it out of them. If they are comfortable or close enough, they will tell you themselves.
Which brings me to the next important part, how to act around them. Or how not to. Do not overthink things. Do not carefully weigh each word before speaking. Do not make them feel left out or different. Interact and talk to them as you would do to anyone else, make them feel at ease with you, albeit a little cautiously. This is the best way to not let them draw attention to their problems, rather, let loose and have some fun.
Like I said before, each person reacts differently. That is why we are humans, not pre-programmed robots. We think, act and feel different compared to others. Something that is light and easy for you to take might be serious for someone else. So take it easy, exercise a bit of caution, and, most importantly, do your bit to keep your atmosphere happy and welcoming to everyone.
Featured Image Courtesy – Vidhi Center for Legal Policy