friends

Supporting Someone with a Mental Illness

 
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Know someone with a mental illness?

A closer look at how you can support them

 

Tips for supporting a friend with a mental illness

Someone who is experiencing mental health difficulties is usually able to live a successful and satisfying life, particularly if they are receiving help to manage the illness. However, it’s not uncommon for a stigma to be attached to someone who is having a hard time.

A person with a mental illness might feel embarrassed or like an outcast because of these harmful stigmas. Often people with mental health difficulties worry that others will tease them or treat them differently. Here are some tips for making your friend feel more comfortable:

Avoid being judgmental. Be aware of the stigma associated with mental health difficulties, but keep an open mind. This might help create a safe environment for your friend, which can allow them to relax and enjoy life.

Talk about what your friend finds helpful. Make sure that the conversations you have about your friend’s illness are easy and open. Try asking about what helps your friend get through the tough times. By talking openly, you’re letting your friend know that you love and support them.

Respect your friend’s limits. There might be times when your friend says that they aren’t able to hang out because of the illness. It’s important that you respect this and don’t put extra pressure on your friend. Often, people who are taking medication can’t drink alcohol or take drugs because it could trigger a harmful reaction. This might make certain social situations hard for your friend. If you know your friend has limitations (for whatever reason), try to be mindful of what activities you invite them to.

Encourage your friend to stick with medication. It’s likely that someone with a long-term mental illness will be on regular medication. Their medication may have side effects that your friend might not like, but medication is often an important part of managing the illness, and your friend might need your support to keep taking it.

If your friend stops using or changes the amount of medication they are taking without permission from a psychiatrist or medical doctor, encourage your friend to make an appointment quickly. Similarly, if your friend is experiencing side effects that weren’t expected and are negatively impacting them, they should contact their psychiatrist or physician immediately.

Ensure that you have contact numbers. Having the contact numbers of people like your friend’s psychiatrist or doctor could be important if you need to help your friend through a crisis, or if your friend is saying or doing things that worry you about their safety.

Getting help for your friend

For those who have a mental health issue, there might be periods of time when things aren’t manageable. Harder times can be triggered if your friend is stressed, or if they have recently experienced a traumatic event, or changed medication. These can trigger the characteristics of the mental illness, which is what most professionals call an “episode.”

If you’re concerned that your friend isn’t behaving normally, it’s important to encourage them to talk to someone trustworthy, like a doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist. If you think that your friend is likely to hurt themselves or someone else, find help immediately—even if your friend doesn’t want you to. This may even mean accompanying your friend to the nearest emergency room or going with your friend to see a counselor.

If your friend is experiencing a crisis, have them call a crisis line: Lines for Life's Suicide Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or their Youthline (1-877-968-8491). Both are anonymous, free, with staff available 24/7/365. They also offer texting and online chat options if speaking on the phone is too uncomfortable or your friend is otherwise unable to do so. It may also be helpful to talk to the person on the helpline if your friend feels talking to them is too much.

Looking after yourself

Sometimes when you help a friend, you might forget to look after yourself. It’s important to take care of your own needs while you’re helping out your friend. Make sure that you don’t give up things that you enjoy, and if you’re feeling tired or overwhelmed, take some time out and relax. You’re not your friend’s therapist, you’re just their friend. It’s okay to have boundaries with yourself.

 

Information for this article was provided by:

  • Mental Health America, “Giving Support to Someone Close to You”


Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com

Living with Someone Experiencing Depression

 
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Are you living with someone that’s depressed?

Let’s take a closer look at how to take care of yourself while trying to be understanding of their situation

 

Living with someone who is experiencing depression is not easy. When they are struggling, it can often be hard to know what to do or say, and it’s not uncommon to feel angry, guilty or overwhelmed from time to time.

Learn about depression

By having an idea of how someone is affected by depression, you might be able to better recognize why they behave the way they do. Understanding more about depression might also help you separate the illness from your family member, partner or friend, and realize that their mood and behavior might not be directed at you personally.

Everyone is affected by their depression a little bit differently. Sometimes it can be physically draining to move much, so the house might not get picked up as often as it normally would. Perhaps being around people is exhausting, so they might need more time alone than usual.

Try not to blame them or shame them for what they’re experiencing, as it’s not something they can control. Just try to be as compassionate as you can for their experience, while also taking care of yourself.

Put yourself first occasionally

As a family member or friend of someone who’s going through depression, it’s important that you look after yourself. This can be hard and you might find that you feel guilty when you do something for yourself, but taking time out for yourself is an important part of taking care of yourself and your loved one.

Having time away from your friend or family member can be important and allow you to relax. Try to spend some time doing what you enjoy. You might want to play a sport, hang out with friends, listen to music or go for a walk. Our Developing Coping Strategies can give you some ideas on what self-care might be best for you.

It may also be helpful to write down your thoughts and feelings in a journal, since you likely won’t be able to express those properly with the person who is depressed. Remember that your mental health is also important, and you’re allowed to set boundaries for yourself.

Talk about what your loved one finds helpful

Make conversations about depression easy and open. Try asking what helps them get through their depression. By talking openly, you are letting the person know that you love and support them. You may like to talk about what you have read about depression, and ask how they feel about it.

Find a support group

If you are living or caring for someone who is experiencing depression, you may sometimes feel you are alone. Friends may not understand what you’re dealing with. Talking to people who are in a similar situation may be helpful. The National Alliance on Mental Illness might be a good place to find some support. You can also call Lines for Life’s YouthLine at 1-877-968-8491 or their Suicide LifeLine at 1-800-273-8255 for more information on how to talk to your loved one about depression or if you suspect they’re feeling suicidal.

Talk to someone

It might be helpful to talk to someone you trust, like another friend or family member, about how you’re feeling regarding your loved one’s depression. If you feel like you are having trouble doing day to day activities or the stress of caretaking for this depressed person is too much, you could also consider seeing a counselor or therapist.

 

Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com

Worried Someone Has an Eating Disorder

 
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Thinking your friend may have an eating disorder?

Here we’ll take a closer look at what an eating disorder is and how you can offer support to your friend

 

What is an eating disorder?

The term eating disorder is used to describe a group of illnesses where a person has a distorted view of body shape and weight and extreme disturbances in eating behavior. A few common eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder.

Helping someone you think has an eating disorder

Helping someone who is not ready to change their behavior may be difficult and it is ultimately their decision to get help. If eating disorders go undetected or undiagnosed, they could become physically and emotionally damaging, and even life-threatening.

If you are worried about someone who may be struggling with an eating disorder, it may be a good idea to talk with the person you are concerned about. Letting them know that you are open to listening to them, without being judgmental, may help to make them more open to discussing what is going on. If you approach the person you are concerned about, it may be helpful to remember that you are talking to them as a friend and not a therapist. Some other things you may want to consider include:

Finding an appropriate time to talk. Timing can be an important part of talking to someone about sensitive issues. If possible, try to choose a time when you feel relaxed and your friend feels relaxed. Try to avoid talking with them during a time where they may be on the defensive or threatened. Otherwise, you may end up getting a bad reaction and creating distance between the two of you.

Be informed. It is a good idea to have general knowledge about some of the characteristics of eating disorders. By doing your research, you may be better equipped to understand the reasons for the reactions you may receive. For example, denial that they have an eating disorder and a belief that they are fat are two characteristics of eating disorders. Therefore, it is normal for those who are experiencing an eating disorder to become angry and not want to talk or listen to you. Being informed may help you to handle their reactions better. Knowing more about eating disorders may also insure that you are seeing the right ‘signs’ of an eating disorder before you talk to your friends. The related articles found at the bottom of this page are another way to get more information.

Offer your support. It can be scary when you realize you need help for an eating disorder. Knowing you have a friend you can trust can always be helpful. Let the person know that you are concerned about their health and when they are ready to get help, you can help them find someone to talk to. Also let them know that you could accompany them to discuss the situation with a counselor, psychologist or doctor.

Remember that your friend might be guarded or defensive when you first bring this up to them. It’s normal for people with eating disorders to have trouble admitting to others—and themselves—that they might have a problem.

If the problem persists even after your speak with your friend, you might want to consider talking about it with someone you trust like a family member, your friend’s family, a teacher or a counselor. You might feel anxious about telling others at first, but remember that you’re not betraying your friend’s trust—you’re only helping them. You can also call the Boys Town (for everyone) National Hotline at 1-800-448-3000 or Lines for Life’s YouthLine at 1-877-968-8491 to speak with someone who is available to listen to your concerns 24/7.

 

Information for this article was provided by:


Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com

Helping a Friend in a Sexually Abusive Relationship

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Is your friend in an abusive relationship?

A closer look at how you can support them

It is usually difficult to know if a friend is in a sexually abusive relationship. That being said, there are some warning signs that you might notice, especially in their behavior. These can also be true if your friend is in an emotionally, mentally, or physically abusive relationship.

What to look for:

  • Your friend is losing interest in activities he or she used to enjoy

  • Your friend is overly worried about what his or her boyfriend or girlfriend thinks

  • They’re acting overly happy or seem to be worried and anxious when with their partner

  • If someone calls your friend’s partner out on something negative, your friend makes excuses for their partner all the time

  • They avoid friends and social activities that do not include their partner

  • Your friend jokes about their partner’s violent outbursts

  • Your friend has unexplained injuries and the explanations seem odd or unlikely

  • Your friend’s behavior has changed dramatically since they started dating this current partner

How you can help

If you do suspect that your friend is being abused by their partner, there are some ways you can help, but it is always important to remember that if you believe that you or your friend are in some immediate danger, you need to go to the police.

Encourage your friend to talk. Try to get your friend to do most of the talking. Here are some open-ended questions you can ask your friend:

  • How are you feeling about your relationship?

  • What do your friends and family think about your relationship?

  • Do you have plans for the future of your relationship?

Try to talk when you’re alone with your friend, not in front of other friends or family members, especially their partner. Sometimes it can be easier to talk if you’re also focused on another activity like going for a drive, making a meal or doing the dishes. You should talk to your friend or seek help from an outside source, but do not confront your friend’s partner. This could make the situation worse and you could even be putting yourself in an unsafe position. You will also want to suggest that your friend not talk to their partner about your conversation.

Listen to your friend. Don’t be judgmental. If your friend is in an abusive relationship, they probably already feel down. Don’t make your friend feel worse.

Don’t blame your friend for what’s happening. Don’t tell your friend what they should have done differently. Concentrate on what makes them happy and how your friend can take action to change things now.

Don’t tell your friend what to do. Instead, encourage your friend to think about options. You might ask your friend if he or she has already tried getting help, or you might suggest places to seek help.

Be specific about why you’re concerned. For example, say things like, “I feel bad when he says you’re stupid” or “We hate to see you nervous and unhappy.”

Make sure your friend knows they have your support. Your friend might be feeling very isolated and alone. Let your friend know that you are there for them, and that they have already begun seeking help by talking to you. Make sure your friend knows you are willing to support them in any way that will help.

Help your friend work out some realistic strategies. What works in this situation will depend on how willing your friend is to see that there is a problem.

Your friend has to find their own way through the situation, but talking to you or a trusted person can help. If your friend does not want to talk to you about it, you might just suggest that your friend call a helpline (like one of the ones listed below), where they can get help without bringing anyone personal into the situation. Encouraging your friend to realize their strengths as an individual can be the best protection you can give, and the best way to ensure that your friend does not become a victim of abuse again.

Where to get help

Finding the courage and the appropriate way to talk about these issues with your friend is important. If you need advice or information for how to do this, there are lots of services and support available. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, especially if you or someone you know is in a violent relationship or has been sexually assaulted. Though you should not feel personally responsible for a friend’s situation, you can always choose to help.

You can call:

For more information, you can check out our articles on Abusive Relationships and Sexual Violence. Kids Health may also have useful information on sexual abuse.


Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com

Peer Pressure

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Peer Pressure

A closer look at how you might be affected by peer pressure and ways to avoid succumbing to it

What is peer pressure?

Peer pressure is the influence you feel from a person or group of people to do something you might not otherwise consider doing.

It’s not uncommon to want to be part of a group and feel like you belong in a community, especially if you are new or less experienced than the people around you.

Peer pressure often happens because you don’t want to be alone or left out. So you go with what other people think in order for them to include you. A peer can be anyone around the same age as you, like a friend, classmate, or even someone you’ve seen on TV and admire. You might try to live up to people’s expectations, but it’s important to be mindful to not have other people’s expectations cloud what you want.

If you’re dealing with peer pressure, you’re not alone.

How does peer pressure affect us?

Peer pressure isn’t always a negative thing. It can be a positive influence and help challenge or motivate you to do your best. However, it’s helpful to recognize that peer pressure can also be negative. It can result in you doing something that doesn’t fit with your sense of right and wrong.

Peer pressure might influence you in a number of ways, including:

  • Fashion choices

  • Alcohol and drug use

  • Decision to have a romantic partner

  • Choice of who your friends are

  • Academic performance

Where does peer pressure come from?

Peer pressure can be present at school or within a broader community. It can affect people of all ages and backgrounds. Peer pressure can affect you in a number of different ways:

  • Directly. Peer pressure can be as simple and direct as someone telling you what to do. It might be a good idea to talk to someone you trust if you feel threatened, or if you are being hurt or pressured into something you don’t want to do. You could talk to a family member, friend, teacher or counselor.

  • Indirectly. Peer pressure might not always be obvious to you. It’s not uncommon for a group of friends to have particular habits or activities that they do together. But when you’re with a different group of friends, it might be unlikely that you do those same things. For example, you might only smoke when you are with certain friends, or you might be more likely to study when you are with other friends.

  • Individually. Sometimes the pressure comes from you. Feeling different from a group can be hard. Sometimes this happens when people move to a new city or start a new school or job. This often means having to make new friends and fit into a new environment. To avoid feeling out of place, you might do things to make sure you feel like the rest of the group. When people feel unsure about themselves, they might be more likely to feel the effects of peer pressure.

What can you do about peer pressure?

Being an individual means making decisions based on what is best for you. It means taking ownership and responsibility for what you do and how you think. But being an individual also means that you can be a valued part of a comfortable and welcoming group. It might be hard to resist peer pressure and stay an individual. Here are some suggestions that can help you manage peer pressure better.

Value common interests. Hanging out with people who like doing similar stuff may help you avoid a situation where you feel pressured into things you don’t want to do. Remember that being seen hanging out in the “cool crowd” might not be as much fun as it looks if you’re not comfortable with the decisions that crowd is making.

Say no. Having the strength to say no can be hard, but it can also make you feel good to stick with what you believe in. Explain to people in a calm way why you don’t want to be part of something, and you might earn respect from others and gain confidence in yourself.

Try not to judge others. If possible, try not to place judgments on other people’s choices. Respecting someone else’s choice may help them to respect yours. Remember that you don’t have to agree with their actions. Focusing on the reasons why you don’t feel happy with the choice might help you to not judge them.

Take action. Taking action against negative peer pressure can be easier when you’re more comfortable in your environment. Standing up for yourself and others can be a way to gain that comfort. Both of these are ways in which you might be able to create a positive atmosphere within a group.


Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com

Effective Communication

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Getting the message across

A closer look at different communication styles and how to start effectively communication today

The way you communicate has a big impact on your ability to get along with people and getting the things that you want. Good communication skills can help you avoid conflict and to solve problems. Open and honest communication is also important for making friends and having healthy relationships.

Styles of communication

Communication can be expressed in many ways and with different results.  Communication can be aggressive, passive, passive-aggressive or assertive. Poor communication often creates tension and bad feelings within relationships.

Aggressive communication is expressed in a forceful and hostile manner, and usually involves alienating messages such as “you-statements”. You-statements blame the other person, accuse them of being wrong or at fault, and can also be labeling (like calling them a name).

A person’s tone of voice and facial expressions can also project unfriendliness. Aggressive communication can send the message “your needs don’t matter,” or “I win, and you lose.” By sending this message, you quickly cut off lines for open communication. When someone speaks to you this way, how does it make you feel? Do you think this is a productive way at reaching your goals?

Passive communication involves putting your needs last. When you communicate passively, you don’t express your thoughts or feelings or ask for what you want. When you use passive communication, it feels like others are walking all over you because you don’t assert your own needs. As a result, you might bottle things up and might feel resentful. Passive communication can send the message ”my needs don’t matter,” or “you win, and I lose.” When this message is received by others, those with bad intentions could see this as a way to keep you under their control or to repeatedly take advantage of you. Have you seen this in others before, or perhaps yourself? What kind of message do you think this communication style brings?

Passive-aggressive communication is when you don’t clearly state your needs or feelings, instead using indirectly aggressive communication, such as making snide remarks, being stubborn, or sulking and withdrawing from the conversation. This style of communication looks passive on the outside, but beneath the surface, this person is acting out their aggression in a subtle or indirect way.

Those with this communication style may often feel powerless and resentful, denying there’s a problem and using sarcasm to deal with others. Essentially, this person is communicating, “I’ll seem cooperative, but I’m not going to be” or “I feel powerless to tell you how I really feel, so I’ll frustrate you instead”. What does it feel like when people aren’t upfront about their feelings with you? Can you imagine it being easy or hard to connect with someone that communicated like this?

Assertive communication involves clearly expressing what you think, how you feel and what you want, without demanding that you must have things your way. The basic underlying assumption is ”we both matter, so let’s try to work this out”. It’s seeing everyone involved in the conversation as a part of the group effort in making things work as smoothly as possible.

Assertive communication increases your likelihood of getting what you want, avoiding conflict and maintaining good relationships. Everyone can win in these situations.

When you are assertive you can:

  • Express your own thoughts, feelings and needs

  • Make reasonable requests of other people, while accepting his or her right to say ”no”

  • Stand up for your own rights

  • Say “no” to requests from others when you want to, without feeling guilty

Take this example…

Tom is feeling angry. He’s supposed to get his driver’s license next week, and for the past month his dad has been promising to take him out driving, but it never seemed to happen. Tom feels frustrated because he needs the practice before he goes for the test.

On Thursday, Tom came home from school and asked his dad if they could go for a drive. His dad said he couldn’t because he had some work to do.

Finally at his breaking point, Tom exploded. “You don’t give a damn about me. You are such a liar! You never do what you say you’re going to do,” he yelled.

In return his dad got all fired up and called Tom a spoiled brat who doesn’t think about anyone but himself. Both Tom and his dad were angry at each other after this argument.

This is a good example of how poor communication can lead to conflict and hurt feelings. Let’s have a closer look at some of the errors that led to this angry outburst.

Error 1: Making assumptions

Tom expected his dad to know what he was thinking and feeling, without clearly telling him. Until the time of the argument, his dad had no idea how important it was to Tom to get the extra driving practice. He thought that Tom felt confident about the test and assumed he just wanted to go for a drive for fun, which they could do anytime.

Tom, on the other hand, had assumed that his father knew how important it was for him to get some more practice even though he never told him, and therefore interpreted his dad’s attitude as not caring.

Assumptions occur in most relationships and people get upset because of these misunderstandings. Often we expect people to know what we are thinking—we believe that they should be able to understand where we are coming from, even though we haven’t expressed it clearly. No one is a mind reader, so it’s important to give people a clear picture of where you’re coming from and how you two can work together to make things easier.

An important aspect of good communication is to tell others what we’re thinking and what we want or need, and also to not assume that they already know.

In Tom’s case, the situation could have turned out better if he had communicated more clearly in the first place, by saying something like “Dad, I’ve got my driver’s license test on Tuesday, and I’m feeling nervous about it. Do you have some time this week to take me out on a few drives? What days would work for you?”

By clearly communicating that going for a drive is very important to him, Tom gives his dad a better understanding of where he’s coming from and how he is feeling. By scheduling a specific time, it strengthens the commitment and makes it easier for both of them to plan ahead.

Error 2: Avoiding communication

Tom didn’t say anything until he was very angry. Each time his dad cancelled the planned drive, Tom said nothing. Over time, Tom stewed about it more and more, and finally he exploded. This type of situation is like a pot boiling on the stove—if you don’t let off a little steam as time passes, eventually the pressure builds up and it boils over. Whenever we’re feeling upset, it’s better to talk about it as soon as possible, rather than letting things build up. If we say nothing, we won’t get what we want and our frustration grows.

Communication problems often arise because we don’t say how we feel, what we think or what we want. People often avoid communicating because they are embarrassed or concerned about upsetting the other person. Sometimes we just assume that others should know what we think. The problem is that when you don’t say what you need to say, it increases the likelihood of feeling angry, resentful and frustrated. This may lead to tension or angry outbursts.

Error 3: Labeling

Tom and his dad also used labels to criticize each other. Labels such as “liar” or “spoiled brat” can be offensive. When we label another person, it can feel like we are attacking them, and that person’s first reaction is usually to attack back.

Attacks lead to heated arguments and conflict. Labels are an example of alienating messages (see Error 4 below), because they criticize the person rather than the behavior. It is OK to criticize someone’s behavior (for example,“I think what you did was unfair”), but labeling the whole person (”You are unfair”) is unreasonable and creates bad feelings between people.

Error 4: Alienating messages

When we use criticism, put-downs or aggressive communication, no one wins, and everyone feels bad in the end. Alienating messages make the other person feel threatened or under attack, and usually this person will respond by attacking back. This type of communication very often leads to angry confrontations or a “cold war,” where we stop speaking to the other person, or use minimal communication.

Some examples of alienating messages include:

  • You-statements. We blame the other person and accuse him or her of being wrong or at fault. In Tom’s case, the you-statement was: “You don’t give a damn about me!”

  • Sarcasm. Sarcastic statements are negative or hurtful phrases that you don’t really mean, and are used to put another person down in a more passive-aggressive way. An example of a sarcastic statements include “Well, we can’t all be perfect like you.”

  • Negative comparisons. Negative comparisons are statements that you use when you compare a person to someone else, and in the process, you put them down for not be ‘as good’ as the other person. For example, “Why can’t you get A’s like your sister?” is a negative comparison.

  • Threats. These statements can include giving another person an ultimatum, for example, “If you don’t do what I want, then I’m going to…”

The communication problems between Tom and his father are very common ones. Perhaps you can think of some examples in your own experience, where you or someone you know has used poor communication, such as assumptions, avoidance, or alienating messages. It’s always useful to be aware of your communication so that you can avoid making these types of errors.

Getting your message across isn’t always easy. Good communication skills can help you avoid conflict and solve problems.

Whole messages

One of the most effective ways of communicating is to use whole messages. This is especially useful when you need to bring up an issue that’s difficult to talk about or makes you feel uncomfortable. A whole message involves expressing how you think and feel, while at the same time stating what you want.

Whole messages consist of four parts:

1. Observations

Describe what happened. Try to be factual and accurate, while not making assumptions.

For example, “When Mike came over the other day, you didn’t stop and talk to him.”

2. Thoughts

State your beliefs, opinions or interpretation of what happened in your observation.

For example, “I thought it seemed rude, like you don’t like him.”

3. Feelings

Say how you feel about the situation.

For example, “When you did that, it made me feel embarrassed and uncomfortable.”

4. Wants

Talk about what you would like to happen in the situation.

For example, “The next time he comes over, I’d like it if you could say “hi” and to make an effort to talk to him. Could you do that for me, please?”

Learning to communicate effectively takes a bit of practice. Can you think of a situation that you’ve experienced where you needed to communicate with someone about a concern? Perhaps you even have an issue that you need to resolve at the moment. Think about it. Then take these steps:

1. Describe the situation, and who you need to communicate with.

2. Write the whole message, including observations, thoughts, feelings and wants.

TIP: If you find it difficult to say it directly to the person, write down your whole message on paper first. This can help you to clarify what you want to say and how you can say it. Just remember that even if you stumble upon your words, don’t stop mid-way. Don’t be afraid to talk things out. Let your voice be heard.

Information for this article was provided by:

  • Taking Charge! A Guide for Teenagers: Practical Ways to Overcome Stress, Hassles and Upsetting Emotions by Dr. Sarah Edelman and Louise Rémond, Foundation for Life Sciences

Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com


Loneliness

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Feeling lonely

A closer look at loneliness and how to develop connections with others

I feel lonely

It’s not unusual to feel lonely every now and then. However, if you’re feeling this way for an extended period of time, it can lead you to feel socially isolated. You might feel isolated from people your age, or society as a whole, for a number of reasons. You might be new to a school, city, or town. You might be geographically isolated in a rural area that is far from other people that are your age. You might be ethnically, racially, culturally or religiously different from the people around you, or you might just feel like you don’t have similar values or experiences as the people in your day-to-day life. You may also feel socially awkward, like you’re not sure what to say or do or quite how to fit in with a group you would like to connect with.

Feeling connected to a group of people is important for your health and well-being. People are naturally social beings, and those who have a strong support group are more likely to be happy and physically healthy. Social isolation can also be connected to depression and social anxiety.

How do I feel less lonely?

Depending on your circumstances, it might be hard to connect with people. For example, if you live in an isolated location, far from a large metropolitan area, your social resources might be limited. At the same time, though, big cities can feel just as lonely.

Here are a few ideas to help you connect with others, no matter where you are:

  • Join online forums and groups. Many people today find like-minded friends to connect with through the internet. The internet can bring you into touch with people all over the world, and gives you a chance through chat rooms to practice conversational skills. There are numerous online groups, pages, blogs, apps, servers, and other social media platforms that can offer connection and solidarity through mutual interest. Just remember to practice internet safety. The internet is widely anonymous and people can pretend to be whoever they want. Never give out your information or address to a stranger online.

  • Talk to a family member, teacher or youth leader. Even though you feel lonely, remember that you don’t have to go at it alone. The first step in ending your loneliness is simply talking to someone from your family, a teacher, a school or campus counselor, or your spiritual mentor/leader. Tell them how you’re feeling. Chances are they’ll be happy to help you and can give you some ideas for how to meet people and feel more connected.

  • Start small. You don’t need to find a best friend or go out with people every night of the week. Start small by finding something in common with your peers—it could be something as simple as a T.V. show, your favorite band or even the homework you had last night.

  • Challenge your negative thinking. You might feel like no one will ever understand you. But chances are that you are your own worst critic. Try to look at each situation objectively to avoid being too hard on yourself. For more tips on how to do this, check out the Challenging Negative Self-Talk article.

  • Get outside. Sometimes, even if you’re not talking or interacting with anyone, just being around other people can make you feel good. Try going to a park, a coffee shop or a library to do some people watching!

  • Join a club or a team. The best way to meet people that have the same interests as you is to join a club or a team. You can join groups through your school, local community center or faith center. Some groups you could join might be a dance group, tabletop tournaments, starting a band, joining 4H, or trying out a club your school offers. Volunteering for a cause can also be enriching for your mental health, as well as help you develop connections to others with similar values and passions.

  • Seek help. If you need immediate help and you aren’t sure where to turn, try calling Lines for Life’s Suicide Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Youthline at 1-877-968-8491. Both helplines will keep your information private and have trained volunteers who can talk to you about how you’re feeling 24/7.

Developing social confidence

If you are feeling socially awkward, there are things you can do to develop more social confidence. Social skills can be learned. Things like how to start a conversation or how to join-in on a conversation, and how to listen well to others are all things you can learn to do. You can also learn about nonverbal skills like eye contact, head nodding, and smiling, as well as when and when not to use these. While some people learn these things easily through their interactions with others, others find these skills take more deliberate rehearsal and practice. If this sounds like you, you may find it helpful to speak with a counselor or other mental health professional who can help you identify skills to develop and even help you practice those skills step-by-step before trying them out in new social situations. Often times, the more practice you have and the more you do it, the easier it will become.

 

Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com