How to support a friend this World Mental Health Awareness Day

I don’t remember many cards or flowers being sent when my mum was ill. There must have been some of course, but I remember thinking it was rather odd that no-one was rallying round her at the time. She was signed off work with stress related depression, a nurse for the NHS. She was pioneering primary care for the elderly, something which, years later, helped my late father. Mum was a carer; she cared for me, my siblings, dad, her patients and friends, but when push came to shove, she was very isolated.

In my early twenties, I was mainly talking about boyfriends, nights out, hangovers and friends. I knew that mum was depressed but didn’t know how to cheer her up. When you see someone you love so down, that’s all you want to do. Make things better. “Chin up, Kate.” That was what Mum had said to me whenever I was feeling a little down, except when I said this to her, it made no difference, she was very ill.

The worst bit was when she went into hospital for a while to get some help, she didn't want any visitors and it was difficult to get in touch to talk to her. She must have felt so alone.

One day, mum came back from the supermarket where she had spotted an old friend. The friend had clocked my mum, put her head down and crossed the road to avoid having to talk to her. Mum was really upset, she came home and cried. She knew that if a broken arm had been her illness, her friend would have come over. This happened more than once. People stopped calling, didn't invite her over and it made her feel even more isolated.

This was twenty years ago, and thankfully things have changed. But not enough. My mum died a long time ago, and it has affected my mental health. The rollercoaster of the grief journey causes dips in my mood, and like many people who have experienced loss on some days it overwhelms me like a freight train. I know that it will pass and will be honest with those around me, without the need to apologize for it. It is part of life and nothing to be afraid of feeling.

When people are depressed, they often push those around them away without meaning to. They can be difficult to live with, easy to fly off the handle and snap at you. They can also be despondent, appearing uninterested in what is going on in their immediate vicinity.

We need to talk about people's mental health and stop being so afraid. There are ways we can support those around us, even if we find it difficult. Here are some ways to help those around you, remember that it's better to say something than nothing.

  1. Say something. Instead of asking how someone is feeling, ask them how things are, it’s slightly more general.

  2. Keep in touch - even if that person doesn’t always respond. Send them a text, a card, let them know that you are thinking of them.

  3. Don't try to fix them. It can get frustrating when you offer suggestions that may help someone, often for them to be ignored. Suggest a professional may help and leave these bits to them.

  4. Telling someone to cheer up when they are depressed is likely to make them feel even worse about themselves, tell them that you are there, alongside them, that it’s okay to feel how they do and hopefully it will pass soon.

  5. Look after yourself. If someone close to you is depressed, it has a knock on effect. By looking after yourself you will be the best you can be to support a friend or family.

  6. Say something, never cross the road to avoid someone because you are worried about saying the wrong thing.