Growing Together: The Importance of Friendship & Mental Health

Hey everyone! this post is very special because it is my first guest post by one of my favorite bloggers Rowana Abbensetts of the blog Spoken Black Girl! Read more about her at the end!







One of the trickiest things about mental illness is its invisibility. You can’t see mental illness at a glance. Heck, you can go for years sitting next to the same person every day, sharing lunch dates and  cracking jokes while still not know that they are struggling with mental illness. The stigma around mental illness is so strong that even someone close to you could be suffering, but unwilling to come forward and share their pain with you. September is Suicide Awareness Month, and so now more than ever, I think we should all make sure that we are showing all of our families and friends real compassion. Being receptive, really listening to others and sharing our own stories of struggle and pain can make such a huge difference in our loved one’s lives.

A few months into starting my mental health blog Spoken Black Girl, I noticed something quite remarkable. People that I thought I knew well were coming up to me, messaging me on social media or texting me words of thanks for my posts. People who I had judged to be the “normal” to my “abnormal” began admitting to me that they too suffer from a form of mental illness.

One friend was someone I had known since I was a teenager. I never would have suspected that she was depressed. I remember laughing with her as we rode the train home together after school, passing notes back and forth in class and buying sugary pretzels with her at the mall.  Maybe it was just that my untrained teenaged mind couldn’t pick up on the signs, but years later she revealed that those were some of her darkest times. Although we had always kept in touch, our friendship grew after we had an open discussion about mental illness. One thing that we could both agree on was that we wished we had talked about it sooner. We wished we could have connected and supported each other through our struggles.

The Importance of Support 

Just mention mental illness and you’ll find out very quickly that not everyone understands. Friends, family members, quite a few of them will fade into the background of your life once they learn that you’re suffering. The ones that remain are the REAL DEAL.

Here are some #FriendshipGoals for mutual improvements in mental health.

1. Check in on each other. Call, text, connect on social media, whatever! Just say “Hey” and show that you care. Don’t wait for the next big occasion to reconnect with your support network. Something as simple as sending your friends a meme that you think they’ll find funny, or an article you think they might find interesting can make a huge impact. Whenever I receive a surprise message from a friend, I immediately think “This person cares about me! However hectic, or busy their day might have been, they thought of me!”  This is an incredibly affirming feeling that just shouts “You’re worth it!”

2. Give Space. This is a big one for me as an introvert. I need time to myself… a lot of time! Good friends won’t take offense to this, they won’t pressure you to leave your comfort zone before you have fully recharged. My closest friends are people that I see maybe once or twice a month. It took me a long time after college to realize that just because I wasn’t seeing friends every day didn’t mean that I was a social failure. In fact, the friendships that I have formed in recent years are stronger and more stable than those of high school and college days.
Those suffering from mental illnesses especially tend to need some time to themselves. Not too much time, but some. Part of mental healing comes from really engaging with the self. So many self-care activities like journaling and meditation are usually done in solitude. It’s important to restore the self before sharing your light with others. Good friends allow for this time and won’t try to pressure you out of your alone time, guilt you, or make you feel ostracized.

3. Stay Positive. I used to be the realest of the real. You know the type. That friend who’s a little bit to ready to tell you about yourself?  Guilty as charged. There’s nothing wrong with being honest with your friends, in fact, I would encourage it! Sometimes the truth hurts, but ultimately the way that you deliver your message means a lot. Learn to see the positive side of every situation. Look for opportunities to empower your friend instead of putting them down. If there is no positive side to discuss move on to my next tip.

4. Listen. Too often we think that friendship is all about giving advice. We think that every question needs an answer and that we need to solve our friends’ problems. Sometimes there is something that can be done to solve a problem, and that’s great! But most of the time when you’re dealing with a friends who suffers from mental illness, all they really want is to be heard. It’s so important to have someone who listens in our lives. Most of the time we vent to friends because we want our voices to be heard and valued.

5. Stand in solidarity. Unfortunately, there is an ugly stigma that surrounds mental health. It’s not just up to those who suffer to end the stigma. If you really want to be a true friend to someone who is suffering, do some of your own work to end the stigma. Stop calling people “crazy”. Would you call your friend who is suffering “crazy”? Probably not. Challenge other people who use derisive or inaccurate language about mental illness, like saying that they’re OCD if they like to be organized or Bipolar if they suddenly change moods. All of these examples can be classified as micro-aggressions. No matter how small your effort is, you will be making the world a more welcoming place for your friend.

Sharing experiences with mental illness can be extremely healing for both parties. Nourishing a friendship through mental illness can be tough, but ultimately a stronger bond will be created as a result.

Do you have any experiences with friendship and mental illnesses that you would like to share?


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Rowana Abbensetts is a writer and mental health advocate. Her blog, Spokenblackgirl.com, is dedicated to empowering Black women and breaking the stigma around mental health.

Follow Rowana's Social Media!

Facebook: Spoken Black Girl

Twitter: @spokenblackgirl

Comments

  1. love this post, it is so important to talk to others!!! xox

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  2. Love this post! I recently posted up a mental health post in my blog and I agree talking to other can be so important X

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  3. Amazing post! As a MI suffer myself, I love seeing these sorts of posts as it's so important to talk about it. Thanks for a great post!

    Jade

    jadelsia.wordpress.com

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  4. I've found that too with my blog- people suddenly relate to my posts and suddenly I don't seem so "abnormal" anymore. This was such a strong and insightful post- great job lovely x

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  5. Yes! yes to all of these! Any time I write about this subject, I find that so many people can connect to it as well - and yet I still find myself keeping silent about it so often :s

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  6. Love these tips! They're realistic and usable. Definitely will keep this post close. Love it!
    KeepingupwithMJ.com

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