Congratulations. If you are reading this article, it means you are [probably] helping your friend go through some serious difficulties, and for that, someone (your friend, his/her family/friends) will be grateful, so thanks!
As a teen, it can be hard to know where to draw boundaries, so here are some suggestions of how to care for friends facing mental health challenges while also caring for oneself.
1. Do not assume you are impervious to emotion.
Although you are helping deal with your friend’s mental health, yours may (and probably will) also be affected. If you ever feel overwhelmed, take a break and pause. Neither one of you will benefit if your mental health suffers, so make sure that you care for yourself.
2. You can ask for help too.
Just as your friend is asking you for help in managing their situation, you can ask others for help, both in managing your own problems and in helping your friend manage theirs. It is perfectly acceptable to seek another friend or professional for help in helping your friend. Your friend may not feel comfortable talking with a professional, but you can still provide beneficial advice to your friend by speaking with a professional yourself. Remember, you are attenuating the pain felt by your friend by sharing it between the two of you; you are not attenuating the pain by simply transferring all of the pain to yourself.
3. Practice self-care.
Although we want to help our friends, it is important that we keep ourselves safe and healthy too. Self-care is the practice of taking care of our own needs and doing things for our well-being. If you need suggestions for self-care, the internet is full of them, including this Here.Now. article!
4. Be a positive force.
Your friend is going through serious difficulties and staying positive can help be a reminder to them to keep looking forward. If you can, make positive opportunities for your friend (i.e., invite them to a movie or a concert). Getting a break from stress is important, but it can be hard to stop in the middle of struggling and “make room” for that specific kind of self-care.
5. No one expects you to be a fully trained therapist.
You are a teen, and therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists all go through many years of training. Although you may feel obligated to be that professional resource to your friend, your job is to be a friend. If you or your friend feel that your friend needs a therapist, help them find someone, but know that you are not equipped to be that someone.
6. You are also a teen.
Although you are helping your friend and that’s amazing, avoid trying to provide all of the answers, because it will put undue stress on you, and to be honest, no one has all the answers.
7. Keep the conversation on your friend.
While bringing up your own similar experiences to describe possible solutions for your friend is helpful, avoid discussing your own present difficulties. If your friend is going through a lot, adding your own problems to the mix can overburden your friend. Make sure you find other healthy outlets though!
8. Do not make your friend’s problems your own problems.
It is very loving and kind to help your friend, but do not stress yourself out with their difficulties. Keep a distinction in your head between the two sets of problems so that you do not overwhelm and/or unduly stress yourself. Boundaries are healthy!
9. Make sure that you are in a place to help others.
If you’re overwhelmed and not in a place to help, don’t. Offer other avenues of support (other friends, therapists, Here.Now.). If you’re overexerting yourself you can risk not being helpful to them, and hurting yourself too.
10. Remind your friend that it is never his/her fault.
Depression and other mental challenges are nothing to be ashamed of, but your friend might be feeling alone/shame/blame because of mental health stigma. Remind them that they are worthy of love and care and that they aren’t doing anything wrong.
11. Ask them the best way to reach out.
Talk to your friend to find out what makes them feel cared for. Everyone is different, but for many, a text or snap can remind them that they matter. We don’t suggest you text them blunt questions like “how’s your depression?” but ask them how they feel about getting a message just to check-in.
12. Remind them of their support system (or help them create one).
Keep your friend aware of all of the various support systems available to them. Not only does this give them resources, but it may also help them feel less isolated. It’s also important for you. Remember, you can’t, and aren’t expected to be available to them 24/7; you have needs and boundaries too. If they don’t have the support they need, and you feel you can, help them reach out to put a system in place.
13. Keep your conversations confidential, unless your friend’s in trouble.
Never break your friend’s trust and discuss their problems with anyone you do not have explicit permission to discuss the situation with; even if your intentions are good, breaking your friend’s trust and consent can hurt them more or close off the opportunity for you to help in the future. However, if your friend is considering doing something that can harm themselves or another person, speak to an adult IMMEDIATELY, even if your friend will ~disown~ you. We know this is hard, but it’s important. Your friend’s life is more important than them liking you at this moment. And please remember to reach out for any support you may need if this is the case.