Introducing Becca, this week’s guest blogger. Becca is an employee at the MHA-NYC Communications Department helping out with Social Media and running the You Matter Tumblr. When she isn’t working, she’s pursuing her Master’s Degree in Social Work Counseling.
Being there for each other is a mark of a great friendship. You learn to rely on your friends, trust them, and support them when they are going through a tough time. That being said, sometimes friends might tell you secrets that are a little scary or worrisome. When this happens, you have to step up and be a Supportive Friend rather than an Unsupportive Friend.
Read the following conversation between Carly and her two friends Jason and Eric.
Carly: Hi, I feel really sad lately. I think I might be depressed.
Jason: WHAT? That’s crazy talk, you aren’t crazy. Why don’t you just stop being sad? Maybe you are crazy and should be committed…. Don’t let anyone else know or they’ll make fun of you!
Eric: Really? I’m sorry that you’re going through this, Carly. It’s okay, sometimes these things happen. Let’s call talk to your parents together or maybe call your doctor. How does that sound?
The Unsupportive Friend, Jason, automatically dismissed Carly’s confession by calling it “crazy”. Crazy is, and always will be, a hurtful word. The Unsupportive Friend then proceeds to tell Carly that she isn’t crazy, invalidating Carly’s confused feelings. Jason encourages Carly to hide her emotions from other mutual friends and instills a sense of shame for being depressed. It is unlikely that Carly will open up to Jason again; she may feel hurt or betrayed by his reaction. If Jason sat down with Carly and discussed her depression, he might become more informed about the issue.
Eric, on the other hand, acknowledges the big step Carly took and responds as a Supportive Friend. Eric also suggests and insists that Carly use the services available to her while maintaining a safe boundary. As a friend, you have to be very careful to make sure that you don’t fall into the primary helping role. While it may feel nice to have your friend depend on you, ultimately, it’s too much stress to put on a single person. The professionals who deal with mental health issues go through a lot of training to deal with this exact situation. In the long run, contacting a parent, guardian, or trusted adult will be more helpful to Carly than Eric could be. Your job as a friend is to help someone reach the services that are available to them. The Lifeline is so great because it is transitional, the anonymity makes it easier to open up and the availability makes it easy to call on your own time.
If a friend ever tells you that they are going to hurt themselves or you feel that they are in immediate danger- call the police. Give the dispatcher all the information you have, tell them exactly what your friend said word for word. No one will be in trouble! They will merely send someone to talk to your friend and help keep them safe. Don’t be afraid to tell someone, this is their job.
Glossary of a good friend:
- Supportive Friend: Someone who puts the safety and comfort of their friend above anything else.
- Unsupportive Friend: Someone who encourages their friend to keep secrets or dismisses their feelings.
- Safe Boundary: A limit to how much a friend can depend on you as the primary helper. Without safe boundaries, friends can become co-dependent and refuse help from anyone other than you.
Example of a safe boundary: “I will listen but if you say that you are suicidal, I will tell someone. “
- A lot of Training: Before Clinical Counselors are allowed to see patients; they must earn a Masters, Doctoral, or Medical Degree. The Lifeline’s Crisis Counselors undergo extensive training.
Example of training: Clinical Psychologists usually spend 7-12 years in college, Psychiatrists usually spend 13 years in college, Social Workers usually spend 6-8 years in college.
- Ever: Not even once!
Example of something we should never ignore: “I think I might hurt myself”
- No One Will Be In Trouble: It may be scary but policemen are just there to protect your friend and their family. They are not going to be arrested or get in any sort of trouble.
Example: A policeman may just sit down and talk with your friend, if needed they can also streamline the process of getting to a safe space. Policemen can also talk to a parent or guardian about how serious depression is.