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When you can’t be there

written by Victoria Minshall-Jones 21/06/2017

When you have a friend or a family member who is suffering from mental illness, it’s natural that you want to be there for them. You would gladly drop everything to rush round and see them, have them round for a cuppa and a cry, hold their hand in the doctor’s surgery. They mean the world to you, and you would do anything to help. But what if you can’t physically be there?

This is where the internet is your friend. One of the more pernicious sides of mental illness is the feeling of isolation. If you’re too depressed to leave the house, you may worry that you will lose contact with your friends. People with mental illness can withdraw from their social circle because they fear they will be a burden, or simply because they do not feel that they are worthy of anyone’s friendship. Social media is a really good way to help remind the people in your life that even if you are not there physically, you are thinking of them and that they still matter to you. Why social media and not a phone call? Well both are good, but social media means that they can pick up messages when they are ready and they don’t need to reply until they are able to. It takes the pressure off, while still letting them know that you care.

 

Letting someone know you are thinking of them can be as simple as sending them silly videos and clips of things that they like over Facebook and whatsapp. Waking up to a link to John Finnemore’s comedy sketch on goldfish was an eloquent way for my friend Ewan to show that he was thinking of me, while I was hiding under my duvet from my last serious mental health crisis (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ZXu36Qh7Yg if you want a giggle). I was really cheered up by my friend Dan sending me the link to The Space Rabbits of Broklevoons. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BxVoaCY2EeQ, gloriously silly). Not only did that let me know a far-away friend wished me well, but it gave us something to talk about that wasn’t about how I was going off the deep end. Every time we see each other, which isn’t often enough as we live at opposite ends of the country, we still crack up whenever someone says ‘spoons’ (seriously, watch the video. Silly fun for all the family).

Social media can help you stop your loved one from getting isolated by their mental health. Something hilarious happens on a night out with the girls? Snapchat it to them. Those mutual friends who finally realised they should really be a couple and got together? Text the gossip to them. Keep them in the loop so when they can be there, they don’t feel like there are in jokes and gossip that doesn’t include them. Avoid phrases like ‘wish you were here’, or ‘you’re missing a great time’ when you text, as that can pile the pressure on someone who may already be feeling awful about being unable to face leaving the house today. Better phrases are along the lines of ‘I didn’t want you to miss out on this’ and ‘I thought you would like to know about this’. I’m personally a fan of ‘OMG gossip!!!’ and ‘haha this is so funny! *cat face with hearts for eyes*’ to start off such messages but then I’m a millennial (just). Adjust phrasing and emoticons as suits your demographic and emotional attachment to correct spelling and punctuation.

"Social media can help you stop your loved one from getting isolated by their mental health."

Mental illness can affect your sleep patterns. If you’re a night owl yourself, and your loved one is on twitter and/or Facebook, keep an eye on when they flash up as online. Dropping them a ‘hiya, how’s things?’ message at 3am via Facebook is enough to let them know that they are not alone. This is especially comforting in those dark pre-dawn hours, when the world can seem a particularly lonely place.

You may not be able to be there in person, but if you reach out to someone over Facebook, whatsapp, twitter, snapchat, instagram or whatever platform you are on, you’re conveying the same important message. You matter to me, and I am here for you. Always. 

If you would like to write a blog post about your experiences of stigma or related issues, email info@timetochangewales.org.uk

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