Looking After Your Friends’ Mental Health is Not Your Job

Emma Scoble
Sep 16, 2019 · 4 min read

A couple of months ago, at 1 in the morning, I was sitting at our kitchen counter while everyone else slept soundly.

I had been talking to a friend the night before and was just awoken by a terrifying message.

This message insinuated that my friend was going to do something drastic. Something he couldn’t take back.

He was halfway across the world from me, on holiday with schoolmates, at the time.

So there I was, desperately trying to get in touch with the people he was traveling with, petrified that I would be too late.

That an untimely death would be my fault.

I finally managed to reach someone who was able to check on my friend.

He had been sound asleep, as I should have been.

This news sent me into a full-blown panic attack that lasted until I succumbed to exhaustion around 5am.

During a lunch with some classmates at university, I brought up my rough night.

Oddly enough, everyone had their own stories of suicidal scares and talking friends down.

And when I mentioned how shaky it had left me, that was met with resounding empathy.

Everyone at the table understood how hard it could be, to feel like you’re solely responsible for another person’s life – for if it continues or not.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I strive to be Good Friend.

As someone who struggles with my own mental health, helping my friends with theirs, for the most part, makes me feel good.

If they just need someone to listen, I can do that.

If they need someone to talk through some things with, I can do that too.

If they need advice on therapy or doctors or medication – I’ve been there, I’ve got you.

But you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped.

And I’d tried everything with this friend.

I was his confidant on speed dial. We talked about the same issues, over and over.

I encouraged him to try therapy and to be open to medication. He tried these things and we saw no improvement.

I had to listen to him plan a date, a date for his “escape”.

It felt like I had a second job, in which my only objective was to try and keep my friend alive.

But at this point, it was way beyond my capabilities, Good Friend or not.

I’d given all the advice I had, I’d tried to be there for him as much as I could, and he was still miserable, still determined to die.

With that, my own mental health was plummeting.

I ended up having to have a Conversation.

A conversation in which I had to tell my friend that we needed some boundaries.

That I was not qualified to give him the help he needed.

That feeling like I held his life in my hands was destroying me.

He took it well. He was upset that his problems were affecting me so much. Understood that I needed to take a step back from the situation.

I stressed that I still wanted to be there for him but that I couldn’t feel like I was the only one.

He upped his therapy from once a month to twice a week.

I told him that his jokes about suicide upset me.

He stopped making them.

I’m no longer his go-to person when he’s struggling and our friendship has been salvaged. With the increase in therapy, my friend seems to be doing better.

We still talk about his mental health, but now the conversation is littered with, “my therapist said this” and “we’re going to try this”.

Knowing he’s still getting help, professional help, has put my mind at ease.

Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

I put my own mental stability in jeopardy to help a friend.

In the end, it wasn’t helping either of us.

He needed more than I could give and I was already drowning.

It’s a great thing to want to be there for your friends, or even your family, but if it’s damaging yourself to do so, you need to take a step back.

Direct them to a professional. To someone who can help them much more than you can.

Discuss boundaries if you need to. Laying out what’s working and what’s not will strengthen your relationship and you’ll both be better off.

You can’t take care of anybody if you don’t take care of yourself first.

Looking after other peoples’ mental health is not your job.

Looking after your own is.

Emma Scoble

Written by

Australian twenty-something who writes reminders mostly for myself.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +604K people. Follow to join our community.

More From Medium

More from The Startup

More from The Startup

More from The Startup

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade