Let’s Talk: Supporting a friend

By The Beacon | January 27, 2016 1:43pm

by Karen Garcia |


One night this past July, I sat across from my lifelong best friend and felt a way I have never felt in front of her: uncomfortable. It wasn’t just that we were crammed into a diner booth with a mysteriously sticky table, or that the suffocating, 95-degree heat had left us both in a daze of lethargy — it was the conversation, which she started with a single, apprehensive question.

“Um, can I tell you something?”

She launched into how, over the past six weeks, she had been going to weekly one-on-one therapy sessions with a counselor at her school. With a shaky voice and a hand gripping her cup of water, she told me that since high school, she had been dealing with feelings of anxiety related to her body image and self worth. Although there had been times over the years that she’d made offhand comments that hinted at some insecurities, it wasn’t until that moment that I was fully aware of how much pain she was in.

It wasn’t about me. I knew it wasn’t about me. And yet as I responded, I became overly aware of myself: of my tone of voice, how my facial expressions could be coming across, whether the words I was thinking of saying were at all overly dramatic or carelessly dismissive.

I wanted to be good, to be right, to not make her — someone I love — regret having told me something important that was hard to verbalize.

As most of us know, talking about mental health isn’t easy. A large part of that has to do with the stigma attached to the topic, but it also has to do with not knowing how to respond. The desire to help and empathize, all the while knowing that we can’t exactly feel what any particular person is going through, can be the perfect breeding ground for awkward silences, lumps in throats and, worst of all, feelings of helplessness.

According to the World Health Organization, one in four people in the world will experience some form of mental illness in their lifetime. Though working toward the destigmatization of mental illness is a vital part of underscoring the importance of mental health, it’s important to realize that moments of discomfort throughout this journey are OK. Discomfort is evidence of treading new ground, which is good when the old ground is one of stigma, intolerance, and misinformation related to mental illness.

Listening and being a support system can be challenging, regardless of one’s own personal history with mental health — but it’s worth it.

We all struggle. Let’s struggle together.




Karen Garcia is the Living Editor for The Beacon. She can be reached at garciaka17@up.edu. Karen is a member of Active Minds, a group on campus dedicated to educating our community about mental health and demonstrating that people are not alone in their mental health struggles.