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When Helping a Friend With Mental Illness, Know Your Limits

08/18/2014 12:10 EDT | Updated 10/18/2014 05:59 EDT
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As a self-defined 'mental health advocate' I am constantly asked by readers of this blog, social media followers, and the media to give advice to anybody who has a family member or friend with mental illness. Using my experience, what works and what doesn't? I feel obligated to follow my own advice to a T so I can practice what I preach and to set an example for everybody else.

One piece of advice I constantly dispense is encouraging people to stand by those with mental illness through thick and thin. When I've been having a crisis, a bad day, hospitalized, anxious and depressed in an indescribable way I need my family and friends to be by my side at all times. Being depressed is one of the loneliest things in the world. I know the toll mental illness takes on me especially in a time of crisis, but to be honest I don't really think of the toll it takes on those that love me.

Naturally, as most would come to expect I associate with a lot of people with mental illness. I have co-workers, friends, family members, and acquaintances with mental illness (and likely so do you) and it is this that brings us together and allows us to form an unbreakable bond with each other.

I expect my friends and family to be there for me when I'm in a time of need and I know they expect the same of me, as they should. But is it OK to have a breaking point where you can just throw in the towel and say, "I've had enough"? This is a question I've been struggling with for the past couple of weeks.

I have a close friend who has been struggling with her mental health and despite receiving treatment, her reliance on me has become emotionally draining and some days it has taken a toll on our friendship. More than once I have considered breaking off our friendship or at least putting it on hold and taking a break because I feel like I've had enough.

When considering whether or not to end the friendship I can't help but feel a sense of obligation to stick by my friend. I expect my friends to stick by me in a time of need so why can't I do the same? The sheer thought of taking a break from a friend going through mental health challenges makes me feel guilty and makes me feel like less of a role model in my quest to end stigma. I know what it feels for people to abandon me in my time of need so who am I to do the same to somebody else?

I have floated this question by those closest to me who have a mental illness and/or have experienced me during some of my darkest days. The general consensus is that we as humans with or without a mental illness have a breaking point in a variety challenges we encounter in life. It is recognizing your breaking point and knowing what to do that is the ultimate challenge.

While we may feel an obligation to care and ease the pain for those closest to us, at the end of the day we must understand our limits and look out for ourselves too.

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