Making friends when you have a mental health problem
Loneliness and poor mental health often go together, and can feed off of each other. Feeling lonely can damage mental wellbeing, and people who live with mental health problems can find it exhausting or overwhelming to spend time with friends or make new ones. Breaking this cycle can be hugely beneficial to an individual’s mental health, but can seem difficult or daunting. In this blog we will share some tips on how to make or maintain friendships.
Meeting new people
There are many reasons why mental health conditions can make meeting new people seem daunting. Some conditions make people feel insecure, unconfident or unworthy of friendships. The idea of leaving the house or being surrounded by people might make you anxious, or your condition might have physical symptoms that are difficult to control.
Whatever the reason, it might help to try to minimise the number of stress factors.
– Find something in common
One great way to meet new people is to think of something that you enjoy. Whether it’s looking after animals, reading books, cooking, playing videogames, or collecting something, someone else out there will enjoy it too. The website meetup.com can help you to find people in your area who share your interest.
The good thing about meeting people because of a shared interest is that there is always a topic of conversation. You don’t have to worry about what to say to someone new, because you know that they are interested in the same thing as you. Having an interest in common makes people more likely to warm to each other and making friends is easier with someone you share interests with.
– Meet somewhere that you feel safe
If you feel anxious about leaving the house, or using public transport, or being surrounded by too many people, find ways to minimise these anxieties. Can you invite a friend to your house or in a public space nearby, rather than having to travel? Can you meet someone new in a quiet, open space (like a park or a gallery), rather than somewhere busy and loud? If you don’t feel safe or comfortable when you see your friend you will be on high-alert the whole time, and it will be an exhausting experience, not a fun one. Any way that you can reduce the stress you feel about spending time with someone will mean that you both enjoy yourselves more, and you will be more likely to want to meet with them again.
– Maintaining friendships
Some friendships are easy – when you see your friend it feels like you were never apart, and you can talk for hours. Others take more time to grow, and that’s OK. Both types require energy from both sides. When making friends take the initiative – don’t wait for your friend to message you, or ask you to hang out. And if they don’t reply right away or can’t meet you this time, don’t give up on them. Having a good friend means being a good friend too. Being there for someone and listening to them when they need you are just as important as them doing the same for you. Remember: your friend is not your therapist.
– Consider telling your friend about your condition
This is a very personal issue, and one that you can only decide for yourself. Telling a close friend how you feel and what you are going through can make them more understanding of your needs. It can also help you to have someone to call on when things are tough, who knows exactly what you are going through. Sharing personal information like this can bring some friends closer together, and make you feel as though you are not keeping a secret from them.
However, you should think carefully before making this decision. Some people don’t know how to react to finding out that a friend has a mental health condition. In some cases, people can distance themselves because they are scared of saying the wrong thing.
It may be helpful to find a community of people who share your condition so that you can talk about your experiences with them. There are some great websites and blogs, including Reddit, where you can find others going through similar things.
For more advice about telling friends about your condition, click here.
Making friends isn’t always easy, but friendships are rewarding and vital to good mental health. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t find your best friend right away, or even if things don’t work out the way you hoped. You deserve happiness and friendship, and your new friend is out there waiting to meet you too.