Mental health issues profoundly affect a person who suffers from them. Watching a friend go through tough times is also hard — especially so because it can feel hopeless when you can’t help your friend or family member climb out of their darkness and reach a better place.
According to the World Health Organisation, over 36% of Indians are depressed, while 7.5% suffer from mental health issues. Look around you — chances are someone you know is need of help but is not well enough to ask for it.
A friend of mine suffered in this way for a long time. Though we were thick as thieves, it took a while before she confided in me about her anxiety.
More time passed before I fully understood what anxiety meant for her, and how to help her deal with a panic or anxiety attack. Her condition introduced me to something new, dark, unavoidable, and out of my control. I felt like a helpless ninny. My friend would be sweating, crying, and a completely different person right there in front of me, while I flounced about drawing a blank on how to subdue her anxiety.
Most of us do not understand having anxiety and what it entails. It’s an intensely individual experience — something that comes in all shapes and sizes, kind of like dildos. While it is a real medical condition, it’s not untreatable. I’ve even heard people speaking about how it’s contagious. These ‘facts’ as mentioned earlier are as misguided as Freud’s analysis of female sexuality.
First, let’s put a condom on the bullshit so that there’s no doubt that anxiety is not a chronic disease or even a single mental health issue. Medically, it is defined as a general term for several disorders that cause nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worrying that manifest themselves in different ways. It is different from clinical depression.
Helping my friend gave me insight into what I need to do for her, and what I do not. These are my three rules for dealing with an anxious homie. I hope they help you as well — because it always feels better to help rather than helplessly wring your hands.
Don’t grope around the dark looking for ideas on how to help your friend or make them feel better. Encourage them to open up to you. They may be internalising a lot of strife. You could be the human pillow in such situation. Let them confide in you, and, let them know you’re a willing ear for them should they need to vent their feelings. Perhaps this will make them feel slightly lighter, but it’ll also help you gauge the seriousness of their situation. Sometimes senseless chatter about the benefits of fried food and theories of fatless beer could distract your friend and help them — even if briefly — let go of whatever is weighing them down. Sometimes you just need to put a lid on it and listen. It depends on the kind of person your friend is.
Smothering the person with attention or hovering around them like a mother hen might not be the way to go, they could need you to respect their space or they could need a hug. You need to figure out which road to take because it will make all the difference to subdue their anxiety.
Some people become physically ill due to experiencing anxiety; they feel nauseated and get dizzy, or they could suffer cold sweats and lightheadedness. Some people say they feel sad and demotivated throughout the day. During her attacks, my friend would hyperventilate and felt claustrophobic. I learned to give her room to breathe instead of creating a concerned fuss.
THEM OVER YOU
You might want to prioritise your friend’s needs. Save your man problems for another time. Your friend’s situation is heavy enough without the added baggage of your tribulations. A friend of mine told me about a party where she had an attack in front of people to whom she didn’t feel very close. Instead of them coming to her aid, it was she who ended up trying to comfort them through her anxiety attack. She felt embarrassed and like a burden. For a long time, she couldn’t face that particular group of people.
Remember you are a friend, not a psychiatrist. Don’t try to dissect your friend’s problems. Remember the little things that might make him or her feel better — it can be a movie they like, or a song they enjoy, or even a foodie treat like chocolate or ice cream. Sometimes, the best way to help a person is just to be there next to them when they need you to be.
Small gestures will make all the difference to your friend and give her the support he or she needs.