Even with close friends, it can be hard sometimes to articulate what you need. And if you live with a mental health condition, your needs may feel…well, extra “needy.” But your needs are not needy, “too much” or “unreasonable” just because you live with a mental illness — they just might be harder to communicate, especially if your friend doesn’t also experience mental health challenges.
To get a little more honest about what people with mental illnesses want to tell their friends, we asked people in our mental health community to share one thing they wish they could say to their friends, but don’t.
You might be able to relate:
1. “I’m sorry I cancel plans so often. It’s never your fault and I wish I could explain my anxiety and mental illness better, but it feels like I am just giving you the same excuses, over and over again.”
2. “I don’t know how to ask for help. I don’t always know what I need or why I am triggered. Please be patient and keep being my friend in little ways: a cup of coffee, vacuuming… just watching a silly TV show with me.1 It is in these little ways I get what I need, not grand gestures and platitudes.”
3. “Sometimes with my depression, I don’t want to make plans with someone because I want to be alone. It’s really not your fault, it’s me. On the other hand, please try your best to encourage me to make plans because when I’m alone, my anxiety gets the best of me.”
4. “Mental illness is exhausting! This is a situation not of my own making. And it’s not something I can just walk away from. I can’t just think positively and have it all disappear. I fear I will never feel like myself again, and I miss me. But I am trying. I struggle every hour of every day.”
5. “My borderline personality disorder isn’t a simple matter of getting mad now and then or getting bothered when I’m alone like everyone does. It’s a mental illness that evokes intense symptoms. When I open up about my struggles, please don’t minimize them. Sometimes I will actually tell [friends] this because I’m often met with minimization or comments such as, ‘I get mad too, doesn’t everyone have this?!’ or ‘Oh my gosh I think I have it too!’ It’s extremely disrespectful. It seems people don’t take the time to understand the reality of my mental illnesses.”
6. “I’m still the same awesome person I always am, I’m just dealing with a lot of issues, but I’m still worthy of love and kindness.”
7. “There is so much you don’t see. From the outside it all seems so easy, but it’s not. Every day is a struggle for me and small tasks like showering or brushing my teeth sometimes zap all of my energy. I cry a lot. I break down a lot. For every happy time we have together, there are hours of solitude and sadness and flashbacks and rehashing all of the traumas that made me who I am today. It can be devastating.”
8. “I promise I care about your problems, too. Sometimes, though, I’m fighting so hard just to keep my head straight, I don’t have the strength to handle anything else other than existing. I’m ignoring everything else because it is taking all my focus right now to breathe. I’ll try to make it up to you when I’ve pulled myself together, I swear.”.
9. “In the times when I don’t reach out to you, that’s probably when I need you the most. My mental illness has convinced me I’m not worthy of help and care, so I retreat. You showing care and kindness can help me see what my mind is telling me isn’t true. That there are people who care. That I’m worthwhile. Sometimes all it takes is a text message.”
10. “I’m not avoiding you, I promise. I work all day pretending to be someone I’m not, and at the end of the day, I feel like if I even try to hang out or have a conversation, I’m going to be an utter disappointment to you.”
11. “There is so much more to my mental illness than what I tell you because I’m terrified you won’t be able to cope with me — I know I can’t a lot of the time — and I will lose you. It hurts to keep everyone at arm’s length, to not feel able to open up about what I’m going through — but that pain is less than the agony of losing people I care about, which has happened so many times throughout my life, when they can’t deal with the full extent of my mental illness.”
12. “I don’t mean to talk in harsh or negative tones, I don’t mean to sound like I’m talking [down to you]… my anxiety gets so high I speak in my rushed thoughts. My anxiety sometimes prevents me from seeing how I come off to people when I try to speak. I’m not mad, just anxious.”
13. “Don’t keep telling me, ‘It’s going to be fine.’ Don’t ask me, ‘You seem like you’re in a bad mood, are you taking your medications?’ We can have bad days too. I’m not broken, don’t treat me like I am.”
14. “I wish you could understand why I don’t text you first. I wish I could tell you about the noise in my head and why I don’t hear what you say half of the time. I’m sorry it sounds like I’m making excuses. I’m not trying to. I’m sorry I seem to be so focused on myself, that I rarely focus on you. I know I’m not the best friend in the world, but it means so much to me that you’ve stayed. Even if we don’t talk much, I know you’re there, and that makes all the difference.”
15. “Support from friends and family matters a lot! Even if you don’t know what to say, know that reaching out and checking in is a million times better than saying nothing at all. Being honest to friends and family about having a mental illness takes a lot of vulnerability and silence from the people that matter most can be truly devastating. Mental illness tells us that no one cares, but something as simple as a text message that says hi can help to reverse that thinking!”
16. “Every day is a constant struggle to keep moving forward and I truly appreciate how understanding my friends and family are. That you still invite me to things even though a lot of the time I decline, the fact that I’m still invited means more than you will ever know. Also the reason I never RSVP is because I never know up until that day how manageable my mood or anxiety will be.”
17. “Please, let me know you care. Because even though the reality may be otherwise, I fear you don’t. All I ask is for you to be there and comfort me, help me get through it. Even if I say I need to be alone, the opposite may be true. Just let me know you’ll be there and you’ll listen. You don’t have to say anything or try to ‘fix’ me. I just need you to be there for me, whether through a text or a hug, that’s all I ask until I feel like myself again.”
18. “I’m sorry I go quiet instead of talking to you. It’s not that I don’t enjoy talking. It’s just that I feel a mental block sometimes and it’s easier for me to lie in the dark and try to forget about everything.”
19. “I’m sorry for worrying you half to death, it’s not anyone’s fault. I’m just going through so many health issues, I wish I could explain, but I am still the silly random funny person you love, I’m still trying to figure out everything, and I swear I’m really trying my best to get back into the spirit of everything, but it’s going to take some time to get over, I still love everyone.”
20. “I may look confident, happy, strong. I am not. Deep down I’m screaming, pleading for help. I cry myself to sleep every night, and force myself to get up every single morning. Please forgive my rudeness, this is not who I really am, but I’m scared of what could happen if show you what my illness has done to me.”
21. “Having a mental illness weighs me down constantly. I know my friends try to make the environment a better place, but mostly I can’t escape the constant sadness in my head.”
22. “I am good at pretending everything is OK. You will never see the losing battle I deal with each day. Because you will only see me smile and hear my laughter. I’m sorry I upset you when I constantly cancel our plans. Sometimes I’m too anxious to leave the house and even minutes before meeting you, I will cancel with a poor excuse… I know I need and want your company, but sometimes I feel like mine is a burden.”
23. “I appreciate your kindness even if you don’t understand what I’m going through. Please be patient with me! I do care and I do try my best.”
24. “I’m sorry I get so obsessed with certain subjects sometimes, but focusing on one thing, no matter how weird or insignificant, helps me cope not only with the stress of day to day life but also with the constant anxiety my OCD and SAD cause, plus all the symptoms that come with depression.”
25. “Depression and anxiety can hit me out of nowhere mid-sentence or during a good laugh — even when I am with you, seeming happy, energetic and talkative. My illness doesn’t ask; the sadness just takes over no matter where you are and when.”
26. “My mental illnesses are extremely exhausting. I may seem lazy to be napping and tired all the time, but it takes so much energy to fight your own mind every hour of every day while doing all the important things of college life. Just because I take lots of breaks and can’t do everything other people do so easily doesn’t mean I am lazy or careless. It just takes me double the energy to get things done than it does for other people.”
27. “I’m not fragile, I’m not going to break. Stop walking on egg shells around me. The last thing my anxiety and depression needs is to be treated like I have a ‘handle with care’ sticker on me.”
28. “I want to express my gratitude to you. Because without you, I wouldn’t be fighting this hard. Without you, being well and healthy wouldn’t be this exciting. I strive to be balanced because seeing you worrying about me makes me feel awful. I always want to keep this smile on my face because I don’t want to take away that smile on your face; your happiness is my source of strength.”
This story was published on The Mighty, a platform for people facing health challenges to share their stories and connect.