If someone opens up to you about their problems with their mental disorder IT IS REALLY FUCKING HARD FOR THEM. Please realize this and don't see it as a burden, look at it as flattery because they trust you. They trust you enough to let you see into their mind and the see the vulnerable parts of their mind no less. I have learned from talking to many friends and family about my own problems and their responses and I know what is good to hear and what really sucks. So I just thought I would share my thoughts.
1. ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR PAIN. Don't brush it away, do not say "oh you'll get over it" or "that doesn't sound too bad". This is a big deal for them and they want you to see that it is important and that they have a right to feel the way they do. It's not even that they have a right to feel the way they do, they are FORCED to feel that way. And many people with mental disorders probably do not go about it the right way but they did not choose this. Even saying, "Omg that sucks," is not a bad thing to say. We want to feel like you understand we're going through a tough time.
2. Let them know that it is NOT embarrassing. Mental disorders have a huge stigma and I have struggled with this for a long time. I have always been embarrassed about the anxiety that I have felt and this has made it exponentially worse. Just like it is not someone's fault if they lose a leg and can't walk properly, it is not someone's fault if the serotonin levels are off in their brain and they cannot socialize properly. Do not judge them, and it would be super helpful if you said that "it's normal to feel this way" or "well just know that i'll never judge you if you have to leave during a party". This will take a huge load off of our shoulders, trust me. The best response I've gotten when I was having a panic attack was "Don't you dare be embarrassed, this is not embarrassing and it's okay."
3. Do not say to "get over it", or "you're overreacting", "that's ridiculous", or tell them to just do whatever they can't do, "just be happy", "just calm down". THIS IS COMPLETELY UNHELPFUL AND WE ALREADY FUCKING REALIZE THAT WE NEED TO GET OVER IT BUT WE CAN'T. Sorry for the caps but this is by far the worst thing you could say to somebody. If we could get over it, we would've already. We can't and we are reaching out because we cannot try alone anymore, or we can't keep hiding it from you. Trust me if I could just calm down and be a chill person who never panicked or got anxious I WOULD. Nobody wants to feel the feelings that come along with any mental disorder so don't you dare tell us to "get over it" because holy balls we would if we could OK.
4. In response to number 3. There are things that you can suggest. Therapy is a huge one. It also has a stigma but a great podcast lately has revealed that it doesn't need to be-- Slate's Meltdown U. It just makes you realize how common mental disorders are and that going to a counselor/therapist is totally normal. I'm sure some of your friends have gone but you just don't know. Suggest helping them find a counselor in the area or at the university (if you're at one). Checking up on them and making sure they are looking into it will be really helpful.
5. Don't treat them any differently after they tell you about their struggles. Except for being extra understanding about some situations that can arise, and knowing that they want to hang out with you or do things that you want them to do but they just might have to go about it in a different way. Keep inviting them to things but give them an escape route so they don't feel trapped, like in social situations tell them that you'll leave with them early if they feel anxious or they can go to the bathroom to calm down. Realize that they need to take small steps and encourage them and congratulate them for taking those small steps. Not like a little kid or a dog, but say they join a club but they have social anxiety and they go to meetings, be like "that's really great that you're doing that". We very rarely get rewarded for our mental obstacles because they seem trivial to those who don't understand but they are a big deal to us and it can be nice to be told that we're doing well. Just like a therapist encourages their patient after they take a step or stand up, we sometimes like things like that.
6. No pity.
7. Just generally try to be understanding. Don't try to fix everything or suggest a million ideas. We just want to be understood, isn't that what everyone wants? We also don't want to feel like we are bothering you or making you uncomfortable so let us know if you are open to talking about it. Bring it up in conversation, "How's your anxiety?" It's actually nice to know that you care enough to ask and it'll be nice to unload for a little. It also makes our anxiety (or other problems) seem like they are normal, like a breakup or a broken leg. It'll make us realize it's not a huge secret we need to hide and be ashamed of. Sometimes it can be a lot though, depending on the situation, so I know there is a line between knowing too much and not knowing anything. But most people feel like they can't talk about it and try to hide it, so talking about it is usually a good thing and suggesting a conversation about it lets us know that you don't mind talking about it.
8. We are more than our problems. Our problems can sometimes overcome us and seem to be consuming our personalities at times but we are firstly your friend, or sibling, or daughter, or son and we are that person even with these struggles.
I know it's sometimes hard to know what to say or do, but trying to put yourself in our place or relating it to a struggle you've had will help you realize how to handle it. Listening is always good.
I'll end with one of my favorite quotes:
"The fact that you're struggling doesn't make you a burden. It doesn't make you unloveable or undesirable or undeserving of care. It doesn't make you too much or too sensitive or too needy. It makes you human. Everyone struggles. Everyone has a difficult time coping, and at times, we fall apart. During these times, we aren't always easy to be around--and that's okay. No one is easy to be around one hundred percent of the time. Yes, you may sometimes be unpleasant or difficult. And yes, you may sometimes do or say things that make the people around you feel helpless or sad. But those things aren't all of who you are and they certainly don't discount your worth as a human being. The truth is that you can be struggling and still be loved. You can be difficult and still be cared for. You can be less than perfect, and still be deserving of compassion and kindness." -Daniell Koepke
I'd also like to add that you can still be a badass bitch. So just saying.
Love you all!