May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to appreciate and uplift the people in our lives who struggle with their mental health. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, almost 50% of adolescents have experienced a mental health disorder at some point in their lives. From someone who’s battled anxiety, depression, and disordered eating from a young age, these are my top tips for being the most supportive mental health ally you can be!
Check in on yourself first
I can’t stress this enough: Before you can take care of others, you need to take care of yourself. Trying to shoulder someone else’s mental health struggles on top of your own will likely only damage you both (believe me—I learned this the hard way). Take inventory of your emotions and make sure you’re in a stable place. If you’re not feeling all that great, do something for yourself instead, like taking a relaxing bath or listening to your favorite playlist.
Related: 7 Ways to Protect Your Mental Health by Managing Stress
Don’t add pressure
Asking your friends about their mental health is a great way to let them know you care and give them an opportunity to confide in you. But keep in mind that sometimes people aren’t ready to share their struggles. If your friend seems unsure or uncomfortable talking about their mental health, don’t push them to tell you about it. It’s possible they feel exposed or unsafe sharing, and forcing them into it will only harm, not help.
Create a safe space
If you want to bring up the topic of mental health with a friend, make sure to do it in a safe environment where they’ll feel the most comfortable sharing. This could mean anything from avoiding public spaces to speaking in a light, casual tone. Additionally, opening up about your own mental health can encourage your friend to confide in you and make them feel less alone.
Related: Great Mental Health Habits for Students to Establish
Be mindful of privacy
If your friend does choose to share with you, it’s your responsibility to respect their privacy and avoid telling anyone else what they said without their consent. Mental health is a very personal topic, and most people are particular about who they confide in. Spreading their stories around could cause your friend to feel betrayed and discourage them to open up to you or others in the future.
People who struggle with their mental health may also have episodes of overthinking, so a little bit of reassurance can go a long way. Make sure to regularly tell your friends that you care about them and think of little ways to make them feel loved. Send them a text that says you’re thinking about them, draw them a little positive doodle, or give them a big hug when you see them (as long as they’re comfortable with it). Think of creative, meaningful ways to show your friends you’re there for them and have fun with it!
Ask your friends how you can help
Everyone is different, and the best way to support someone will vary from person to person. If you’re unsure of how to be there for a friend, ask them directly what would be most helpful. This way you can avoid doing something that could make them uncomfortable and let them know that you truly want to support them as best you can.
Related: 8 Ways to Improve Your Mental Health in College
Many people struggle with their mental health—perhaps more than you realize in your own life. If you’re hoping to be the best mental health ally you can be, the suggestions above are a great place to start. Have a wonderful Mental Health Awareness Month!
If you or someone you know are struggling, check out these resources from the National Council of Mental Wellbeing as well as our article on Mental Health: What It Is and How You Can Find Help.