Lifestyle: Checking Up on Your Long-Distance Friends

Depression is real. Mental illnesses come in many forms and they’re all valid, real, and usually touching each of our lives. Recently we’ve seen the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain shake the media, and in a well-meaning universal gesture social media has been flooded with calls to take mental health more seriously. As many pointed out, “taking mental health more seriously” is not something that can just be paid lip service to; we’ve seen cycles of interest and disinterest spike in the topic before – such as when a new series of 13 Reasons Why comes out. For those of us who don’t have a mental illness, the responsibility to nurture a comforting, supportive environment for loved ones doesn’t stop at tweeting – especially as many with depression or anxiety feel unable to communicate at low points. In this digital age we’re more connected than ever, so what should we be doing to support our distant friends? Rather than telling them to reach out, we need to take that slack by the iMessage keyboard.

If you know someone who struggles with mental health, it’s not enough to expect them to always organise their own cry for help. Millennials who travel far and wide for work are used to long-distance friendships, but how do we bridge that gap when it’s most crucial? Even only equipped with a smartphone, we should all make more effort to reach out to those dear to us and check up on them.

Here’s our guide to being a friend to a friend in need:

Keep in touch! And sending a single emoji in response to their Instagram story doesn’t count here. When you’re in a position to do so, ask how they are, and give them space to reply in as much detail as they want to. Being reminded that you’re there and thinking of them can help a lot.

Be sensitive! Even if this is your first experience talking about the nitty-gritty of mental illness, listen to everything they choose to say, and let them finish. Gently ask them for more information if you’re worried, or alternatively, if they just need someone to laugh about something silly with, put that on hold to help lift their mood until it feels appropriate to become more serious.

Be patient! Sometimes even the pressure of replying to an iMessage can trigger someone to feel worse or more stressed, so give your friend time to reply unless it really is urgent. Don’t get angry at them for leaving long pauses in the conversation, they may be doing their absolute best, and that approach helps no-one. You ought to be helping them for them, not your own satisfaction.

Keep your promise to talk! If you’ve tweeted anything along the lines of “I’m always here if anyone needs to talk”, and you’re faced with a friend struggling with mental health, now’s the time to come good on that promise. Mental health can be confusing and distressing, so please be ready to stick with the conversation if/when your friend is ready to open up.

The mental health charity Mind has an extensive wealth of information online! There’s plenty more advice available from the experts, and there are resources for families, friends, and those with mental illnesses themselves.

If you have a mental illness, or have a question about how to be helpful to someone who does, here is the NHS list of some specialised helplines, too! Remember you’re loved, and there will always be someone available to talk.

What are your thoughts on this list? Tweet us at @DebutMagUK

Words by Esmeralda Voegele-Downing
Twitter: @Esmeralda_VVD
Art by Ambivalently Yours

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