Last week was heavy. Whether you rocked Kate Spade or watched Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain or not, you couldn’t help but feel something when you heard about the tragic deaths. Two well-known cultural icons —who seemed to have everything— ending their own lives is difficult to ignore. Cue the hashtags and social media campaigns.
“Check On Your Strong Friend” has been posted around the net thousands of times. It sounds like a no brainer, but what does it really mean?
Before I go any further, let me say that depression and mental health has nothing to do with strength. Millions of people suffer with some form of depression or anxiety every single day. That means that right now, someone in your group chat may be experiencing those symptoms. Checking on and paying attention to the signs are two different things. First–
You view your friend as strong because they have mastered the art of masking their pain.
Yes, we want to praise our friends for handling the divorce so well. Bouncing back after losing the job. Moving forward after the illness. But a real friend understands that scars don’t heal overnight. There are layers to grief and the first one is like the skin of an orange. You have to peel it or cut it open to get to the core. And most of us just don’t want to do that.
When we are honest with ourselves checking on a friend is a huge responsibility. In our hearts, we know that it takes more than a text, email, or phone call to make sure that our good friend is okay. In many cases, we will have to show up and be present. And hell, we have shit going on in our lives too.
People will put an expiration date on your grief.
But if you know your friend well enough, you understand that your check-in is not going to yield an admission of depression. In fact the conversation, probably goes something like this:
You: Hey. How are you feeling?
Them: I’m good. Just going through something right now.
You: Okay. If you need anything, let me know.
The conversation will probably end there. You’ve checked on your friend. And your friend masked their pain well enough to give you what you needed to hear.
The stigma around depression has caused so many people to suffer in silence. Others just don’t want to put their burdens on their friends and loved ones. Some people can’t even articulate what they are feeling or even know how to fight it.
So how do we help our friends that may be suffering:
- Recognizing the signs.
No matter how strong your friend is there are always indicators that something may have changed in their life. Has your friend been sleeping way more? Have they withdrawn from the circle and started to avoid events, texts, calls? Have you noticed a sudden loss or gain of weight in your friend? Are they giving cues on social media? If so, there may be some type of internal struggle taking place with your friend. This is time to not only check-in regularly but also pay attention to any patterns.
- Showing up
Sometimes you are going to have to stop everything that you are doing and just show up at your friend’s front door. Bring food, cleaning supplies, your makeup bag, whatever it may take to get your friend out of their bed and distracted from their funk. You may have to dedicate more than hour to your friend but sometimes this is necessary.
- Making the call
When we truly love someone, we never want to do anything to hurt them. Sometimes you are going to have to be the person to make the call for your friend. You may have to make an appointment for a friend and drive them to the therapist. You may have to call 911 and have them evaluated at a mental health facility. You may have to break their trust and call a parent, if you think it’s necessary. Whether you’re running into a burning building to rescue someone or not, saving a life is not easy.
At the end of the day you may have to direct your friend to a healthcare professional.
- People will put an expiration date on your grief.
For so many of us, we admire our friends’ strength and seeing them in pain hurts too much to watch. So the first sign of normalcy, we try to move them forward because we need them to be strong for us.
I learned this after my mother’s death. The moment I posted one good photo on social media, everyone thought that I was done grieving and back to my regularly scheduled program. For me, and for many others, that was not the case. I was simply trying to find my sense of normalcy.
And finally, even if you render all of the above for your friend, it does not mean that you will stop their suffering. But at least you added a light to the darkness in their lives. And that is a gift.
FRIENDS THAT MAY NEED YOUR SUPPORT
Did your friend just have a baby?
Did your friend just have a miscarriage?
Did your friend just lose a parent?
Did your friend lose anyone close to them (significant other, friend, family member)?
Did your friend just experience a breakup?
Did your friend just lose their job?
Is your friend having financial difficulties?
Is your friend struggling with their sexuality?
Did your friend tell you they feel lonely?