I appreciate that a lot of blogs (including my own) strive to be endlessly positive, motivational and uplifting, but I know that an important part of self care is not bottling up unhappy thoughts – it would actually be unhealthier to never discuss day-to-day things that we find more difficult.
I’ve named this post ‘Past Friendships’ because these friendships ended as a result of my mental health. As someone who has experienced a few different mental health issues, I wanted to write a post that discusses how this has negatively impacted my friendships.
If you’ve never experienced a mental health issue, I hope this post clears up any questions you might have had previously on what not to say when supporting friends who are struggling with their mental health. If you are experiencing difficulty keeping up friendships whilst coping with your mental health, or have struggled to do so in the past, I hope this post shows you that you’re not alone.
Before I begin: if you or someone you know needs help (no matter how urgent either of you believe it is), please go to www.mind.org.uk for information, advice, and help finding support.
In the past, I’ve lost friendships as a result of my mental health problems for a variety of reasons. These include:
– they can’t understandÂ [insert mental health problem here] – they don’t believe inÂ [insert mental health problem here] – they make fun ofÂ [insert mental health problem here] – they don’t want to be associated with someone who hasÂ [insert mental health problem here]
At first glance these seem really easy to fix.
They are! But it takes the person who is in the position of ignorance to educate themselves for this to happen. Often, this isn’t the case. Interestingly, each one sort of flows on from the previous one.
‘I can’t understand it’
For some people, educating themselves on something they haven’t experienced is just too much effort. I think it’s important to remember that if someone doesn’t bother to try to find ways to support you, they don’t feel that your friendship is worth it. They’re struggling to find the time to be your friend.
‘I don’t believe in it’
This response makes continuing a friendship with that person near-impossible for me. Instead of getting frustrated that this person doesn’t ‘believe’ in a health issue, I’ve learned that the best way of coping with this kind of rejection is telling myself to simply be happy for this person – it must be wonderful to have never experienced any form of mental health difficulty.
‘Haha, are you serious?’
Haha, I am serious! And it’s not funny, it’s a daily struggle that you’re very lucky not to understand! This reaction is usually followed by ‘I wouldn’t have thought you were that kind of person’, which is almost synonymous with the belief that mental health disorders are a personality trait (this is something I’m going to discuss in a different blog post). The groundbreaking thing about mental health disorders is that they are health issues, just like the flu! As you’re probably aware, there aren’t certain kinds of people who get the flu. Any mental health issue is the same.
‘Oh. Um. Right. Sorry? Yeah. Okay. I’ll see you later.’
This is a collection of some of my past friendships’ final words, which are said right after I manage to build the confidence to say something I’m hiding from everyone else. This isÂ always from someone who hasn’t experienced a mental health issue (seeing a pattern yet?) that is so uncomfortable at even the mention of their existence, that they have to gravitate away from you asap. The lovely thing about these people is that the end of your friendship with them isn’t personal – no matter who you are, if you show any signs of requiring an ounce more emotional support as a result of something that isn’t your fault, they’re out the door. Imagine if you told your friend you had the flu and they reacted awkwardly and avoided spending time with you because the fact that you have the flu makes them uncomfortable. One word: Bye! Whether we’re discussing mental health issues or not, if someone doesn’t want to be your friend because of something that isn’t your fault, they’re not worth your time (and, consequently, they’re missing out on your time).
I think it’s important to remember that people are often afraid of the unknown. It’s actually normal. It’s the unknown that’s making them leave – they’re scared of the concept of mental health issues. And since you aren’t your mental health issues, their problem isn’t you. Don’t forget that.
My next mental health post is going to be ‘Present Friendships’, i.e. what to say when supporting a friend (or anyone, really) with a mental health disorder. It’s going to include some tips for maintaining a healthy friendship when you’re dealing with mental health issues too.
Feel free to comment with any of your thoughts on the topic – I hope this can be a sort of conversation starter on something that I believe should be discussed openly.