Mental Health Support For A Support Person

You Are Not In This Alone

About a month ago, my friend was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Over the past 3 years, I have seen my friend through a multitude of difficulties. It was only in January 2016 that she began seeking professional treatment for her mental health issues. Prior to this, I was her only support. This included calling or seeing her daily to check-in with her, bringing her food, sleeping at her place, and even cancelling my own plans to spend time with her.

I was never bothered this fact: She was my friend, and I loved and cared for her.

While I did sometimes feel overwhelmed, it had not occurred to me that it was affecting my own mental health. I was convinced that I could do it on my own: I had the knowledge, the strength, and the emotional stability to deal with all of her problems and my own. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

Reaching Out And Getting Help

The first time I received my own mental health support was in September 2016. This was exactly 3 years since I began supporting my friend. I should emphasize that, even at this time, I did not seek out support on my own. Rather, supporting myself was brought to my attention after a difficult suicide-prevention training session. I found myself brought to tears by the difficult content. I finally began to understand the effect that being a constant support person was having on my mental health: the inability to focus on school, the difficulties in my other relationships, and my increased anxiety levels. A couple of days after this training session, I met with a Peer Support Counsellor.

Since then, I have been meeting with her on (almost) a weekly basis. I am able to candidly talk about my feelings about my friend, and the difficulties of being her support and my mental health. I am also able to learn practical strategies to be a better support to her. My counsellor’s ability to help me open up has allowed me to become much more aware of my own mental health, and its importance in this situation. At first, I felt silly. Why was I seeing a counsellor when my friend was the one who was actually struggling with her mental health? My counsellor encouraged me to see the bigger picture, saying that by taking care of myself, I would be better able to help my friend.

Although I am still learning to balance supporting both my friend and supporting myself, speaking to my Peer Support Counsellor is one of the best decisions that I have ever made. Being a support to my friend is the most exhausting yet rewarding thing I have ever done in my life. I will always go above and beyond to be the best friend I can be to her. That is only possible if I take care of me first.