How to best help a friend suffering from mental illness

You set your terms, hold your lines firmly, and then be fully present when you are with your friend.

  • By Carolyn Hax The Washington Post
  • Saturday, June 8, 2019 1:30am
  • Life

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

I have a friend who suffers from a mental illness. Medication does not seem to make a difference. My friend is a good person, but difficult.

I want to be a good friend, but sometimes I feel used. I need help figuring out where to draw the line. It’s not their fault — it’s brain chemistry. But sometimes I wonder how much is under their control. I cannot give more than generalities, but can you help?

— Friend

I can try.

Often when you’re not sure where to draw lines, it can help not to look to the other person for answers — does s/he do this on purpose, is it the illness talking, etc. — because these are often unanswerable. What you can know is where your limits are. What situations with this person are OK? For how often, and for how long? What situations aggravate you?

Taking these as a whole and then developing a plan — a very specific one, including frequency of contact, types of contact (text, phone, in person, in your home, in their home, at a neutral site), and length of contact at any given time, etc. — is a way you can remain involved with this person’s life but not get overwhelmed by it. You set your terms, hold your lines firmly, and then be fully present when you are with your friend.

You can also tweak the plan as needed, after you see how theory works in practice.

Dear Carolyn:

I’ve read over the past wedding chats before asking, and I think this is a new conundrum, or maybe just a thing to laugh about? Our caterer royally screwed up, and most meat and fish were uncooked. Not under, un-. So, refund. Yay! And because no one ate, no one got sick.

Some not-close-to-us guests, friends of parents, have heavily insinuated that we should refund them for the dinner they left the reception early to get. Which on its own is an eye-roll, whatever, not Worth It. But the ’tude plus the fact that they also went to a fancy restaurant and spent fairly more than our per-person budget … we’re real disinclined.

Parents have offered to support our decision, but if we do it, it’s for their sake. Thoughts?

— Disinclined

Oh for fox’s sake. No, you don’t have to reimburse guests for their meals after a caterer fail. Gracious people would understand — reflexively — that their hosts paid penalty enough, and then some, for having their event ruined.

What is wrong with people.

Dear Carolyn:

A dear friend died very unexpectedly. The service is coming up, and I expect it will be an open casket. I have serious anxiety issues about seeing a dead body.

I want to make sure this terrible, awful day will be about the family getting the comfort they need, not me. What can I do, short of averting my eyes?

— Anonymous

I am so sorry about your friend.

In my experience, open caskets are positioned so that viewing the body is a choice — but call the funeral home to be sure. Funeral directors tend to be unusually discreet, sensitive people — their livelihoods depend on it.

— Washington Post Writers Group

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