How mental health and friendships affect each other


Acts of kindness are a way of telling your friend that they're in your thoughts and not forgotten. This means just showing up and spreading the good vibes, says Wong. Photo: Freepik.

Have you put on weight? You look very tired! These are comments that Alexandra Wong has heard from well-meaning friends that, she reveals, cause her to feel "triggered".

This, the 48-year-old digital content creator says, means "experiencing strong emotional reactions - fear, shock, anger, or worry - to words said to you, people, or even topics".

While Wong says she realises these friends mean no harm, and their comments might even have stemmed from concern that she wasn't looking after her health, she says that "negative words at the start of a conversation are a surefire mood-killer".

"A better way to start a conversation is with something positive and then ease gently into your concern whether the person isn't looking their best," she explains.

Wong, who recently published an online Mental Health Toolkit based on her personal experiences, which she hopes will help those who are going through mental health struggles, advises against forcing people to open up.

"It has to happen naturally," she says. "Use words that are honest, kind and empathetic."

Wong goes on to share a chat which she had with a friend that started off as a trigger but ended up as something beautiful and educational.

"After creating my mental health toolkit, I sent it to a friend. Her response was: 'Is it complete? It feels like you've got more to say somehow'," she shares.

Although it sounded innocent enough, Wong admits it caused her to feel triggered.

Deciding the best solution was to communicate and clear the air, Wong spoke to her friend.

She told her friend that the first two months after she sought professional help for her mental health struggles was a difficult period for her because she was on heavy medication.

"I couldn't think clearly, find the right words, or do a lot of the things that used to come effortlessly to me.

"It was only during the last month or so after my medications were reduced that I was able to think with clarity and create.

"I was so happy when I came up with the Mental Health Toolkit using those IG carousels because it was a sign of progress in my recovery. But after I sent it to you, your response felt like a bucket of cold water. However, I know that you're a good person and would never consciously say anything to hurt or trigger me," she says.

Wong learnt that one of the reasons she ended up in that state was because of repressed emotions.

"They eat at me and that's why I've decided not to keep my feelings to myself but instead to try and explain how I felt without offending you or affecting our friendship," she says.

Wong reveals that she received a good response from her friend who expressed gratitude towards Wong for her empathy and patience despite her own struggles. Her friend also encouraged her not to be disheartened if she receives a negative response from others because not everyone is able to empathise or put themselves in another's shoes.

"In this case, it's not you, it's them is true," she says.

Loss of friendship

Sometimes, we lose friendships when we fail to understand or recognise the struggles our friends are going through, says Wong. Photo: FreepikSometimes, we lose friendships when we fail to understand or recognise the struggles our friends are going through, says Wong. Photo: Freepik

According to Wong, sometimes, we lose friendships when we fail to understand or recognise the struggles our friends are going through.

"We might think they're overreacting or too sensitive. We might be giving out judgemental vibes instead of offering the empathy that they need," she says.

"I lost my best friend because I failed to recognise that she was going through mental health struggles. Looking back at our last meeting, the signs were all there - she was clearly having anxiety and perhaps depression - but I was ignorant because I didn't know better," she explains.

"At first, I didn't understand why she suddenly started distancing herself from me after that. From talking every day, our interactions were reduced to birthday and festive messages and then, none at all," she adds.

Even though Wong tried reaching out to her friend multiple times, she never responded.

Wong admits that she can't really say that she will ever completely move on because "when you care about a person, a part of them always remains".

"It's useless to cry over spilt milk but we can pass on our experiences and help others from making the same mistakes," she says.

Cheering up a friend

Questions such as 'how are you?' or 'are you ok?' might be difficult to answer directly, especially for someone who is going through mental health struggles, says Wong, who recommends offering support in other ways. Photo: FreepikQuestions such as 'how are you?' or 'are you ok?' might be difficult to answer directly, especially for someone who is going through mental health struggles, says Wong, who recommends offering support in other ways. Photo: Freepik

Although messages of concern are appreciated, questions such as 'how are you?' or 'are you ok?' might be difficult to answer directly, especially for someone who is going through mental health struggles, says Wong.

Instead, she recommends offering support in other ways, citing from her own experiences.

"Some friends offered their home as a safe haven when I needed company while hubby was at work, other friends sent gifts of food including one who asked her mum to cook food that I liked to improve my appetite, a buddy sent me links on topics we geek out on, and so much more. It can even be as simple as a like on an Instagram post, especially if you're not in contact regularly."

"All these acts of kindness tell me I'm in your thoughts and not forgotten. In other words, just show up and spread the good vibes," concludes Wong.

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