Before You "Check-In" On Your Friend's Mental Health

A photo of a young woman standing alone on the side of a street, staring forward. It looks like she may be in a dark place, mentally.
Photo by Raychan.

Lately, I have been seeing a lot of posts circulating on social media encouraging everyone to check on their friends' mental health - especially any friends they know to have anxiety, depression, or other mental health challenges.

As a person who has spent some time in this world, I have a thought or two.

My main thought: having a "how are you doing - no, how are you really doing?" conversation with someone I don't really know or don't typically talk to about these things is, well, is not the thing I usually need when life is harder than usual.

This isn't because it sucks when people care, but because those conversations usually feel like the person won't be satisfied until I lay a bunch of mental anguish at their feet. They came to support my mental health, dadgummit! They should be rewarded by me pouring my guts out, crying, and then being so, so grateful they cared to call.

Believe it or not, I actually don't always have mental anguish to share, and when I do, I have people (professional and non) that I talk to about these things.

As I said when I wrote about Bell Let's Talk Day at the Huffington Post: a deluge of concern that comes out of nowhere and is not really going anywhere can be really uncomfortable.

I'm not saying you should never check in on someone's mental health, just that it's complicated and your intervention may or may not be actually needed or wanted. I know, this sucks for you, the Good Person who just wants to help, because it means you can't always know you're doing the best thing.

For me, a good place to start is being open about your own struggles. Nothing makes me feel like I can trust you with my pain like being trusted with yours.

Next, don't assume that I must have a lot of underlying pain just bursting to be shared - being a person who lives with depression doesn't actually mean I'm constantly hurting. Sometimes I am totally fine, and when it does come to the fore, at this stage, it's pretty old hat and there isn't much to say other than that it's there.

For me, my depression coming in and out is like my bad knee acting up: it sucks and it may be impacting my life, but it's not the end of the world and I pretty much of know how it will play out.

Because of this, I muuuuuch prefer to talk about it pretty casually and without an avalanche of sympathy. It also means that if I say I'm doing okay, I really appreciate the people who believe me.

I say this, fully knowing that when I was a teenager in the early stages of being deeply depressed and not knowing what it was or how to deal with it, all I wanted was for someone to see through my smile and not accept the lie when I said I was okay. (Of course, my mom did try to do that and I always managed to keep my misery just out of reach because what I actually wanted was for a cute boy to see my hurt, want to make it better, and kiss me so we would fall in love forever and I would never feel sad ever again. Because that is obviously how that works.)

So maybe there is someone in your life who needs you to not only ask how they're doing but to press a little harder when they try to brush you off. Or maybe even someone who is on the verge of doing something drastic and needs to know that literally anyone cares.

Knowing that, here's my advice: if you have seen something that gives you actual concern for someone's safety, go forth and intervene in whatever way you are best able (and actually, you may be able to save someone's life just by keeping them distracted and busy for a time).

Otherwise, just let them know you're there and then follow their lead.

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