MindMatters Panel: Module 4.6 Looking after your friends 

Julia Zemiro:
Hello, I’m Julia Zemiro. Trying to solve your own problems as a teenager is like standing in a bucket with both feet and trying to lift yourself up by the handle. And that’s why you need to look out for your friends. Friends are like wedgies, they’re intimately close, they know your inner self and it feels great when you pick a good one. It’s great to have a friend that you can tell anything to but it’s not so great if they don’t know how to respond and just pat you on the head. Ok, so let’s meet our friends here. Clinical psychologist and family therapist Andrew Fuller and those fabulous high school survivors: Ned, Ash, Loren and Habib. So let’s talk about what you can do to help a friend who’s having a hard time. We know that everyone goes through periods of positive and negative mental health, and that we can all experience signs and symptoms of a mental health problem, but how do we recognise them in other people? Is it easy to miss, Andrew?

Andrew Fuller:
It can be pretty easy to miss but I think probably the thing that we always look for is a change in ourselves or a change in other people. So when people who are normally really chatty are quiet or when people who are normally pretty reserved suddenly kind of, even kind of, get really kind of outgoing and you think “Oh, that’s a bit unusual. What’s going on?” That’s the first thing, and then you kind of, you watch for a bit and you kind of go “Well, has that occurred, ok. I’ve just noticed that then but has it occurred over the last couple of days or has it occurred with different people and different settings?” And so if it looks like a bit of a consistent thing. I suppose the third thing is you sort of check inwards and you kind of go “Well am I feeling a bit worried about that or does it seem just as ok?” And we can, often, just at early on, we’ll kind off brush off our feelings of concern but I’ve learned though that over years that our gut instincts are right.

Julia Zemiro:
We forget about that don’t we, the gut instinct’s really important. 

Andrew Fuller:
Yeah so, if you really kind of, can tune into that and go “Well actually I am feeling a bit concerned about that, I might go up and just check if he’s ok.” You know, it’s worth acting on that, I reckon.

Ash:
I had a friend that I recognised – because she was getting depression as well and I guess I recognised the same way they recognised through me was that – she was getting quite quiet. When she did talk she was quite snappy and she suddenly didn’t agree with people on the things she used to agree with people on and I guess, she didn’t come out a lot like to parties and stuff and, if she did, she just sat in the corner with her phone, all isolated, and I guess, because this was after I was diagnosed, I realised pretty quickly that she was going through the same sort of thing as me and the best thing to do really, when you’re trying to work out something is yeah, just see, do you think that they’re feeling different, do you – are you worried about this person? – and that sort of thing because yeah I believe that your gut instincts are the best way to go with that.

Julia Zemiro:
Ned? 

Ned:
Erm, well with my closest friends, you usually – you hang out with them a lot – and when you hang out with them a lot, you tend to know and understand how they act, how they react, how they – yeah – how they change and all that. So, if you were to see them act in a different way and see it over a couple of days, you’d know something’s going to be up. And I have actually dealt – I’ve dealt with situations like that. I’ve noticed that and he’s actually noticed it with me as well.

Julia Zemiro:
Now, this can always be difficult, but how do you have a conversation with someone? 

Ash:
I guess, you kinda, don’t start, like don’t start with that conversation. You can’t just, you know, go out and have lunch and then straight away – you kind of need to talk about – yeah – you kind of need to talk about other things and sort of slowly broach the subject and don’t talk about your own experiences straight off. They don’t want to hear about your experiences when they’re that low, like, I know this because I had a friend with depression when I was diagnosed and she was all like “I went through this and this” and I’m like “I don’t want to hear about your problems.”

Julia Zemiro:
It’s funny because I think I’ve made that mistake a lot at school. You do that because you thought “See, I’m having a problem too” but in that moment – that’s actually annoying. 

Ash:
Yeah. All it actually makes the person feel is that you don’t care enough about their problems to just straight away listen and yeah so basically you just listen to what they have to say but help them find a way or someone who they can actually talk to and seek help from but always – yeah – make sure they know that you’re there to listen.

Julia Zemiro:
Ned, what about boys talking to boys, how does that work? Is that easy?

Ned:
Ah it’s a really complex and complicated situation when it comes to that. See because boys are kind of hard to talk to. They like to keep things bottled up inside and with me, I love going out. I’m not a stay at home person, I don’t like – like I won’t stay at home for more than a day – I can’t. If I’m not at school I’m not at home. I’m out. And I’m always with friends, I’m always with family and that’s a good way to actually get them to talk.

Julia Zemiro:
But are they brave enough to sit down like we are now, this close, going “So, Ned, tell me about that problem” or is it like go for a drive –

Ned:
When you go out with them or you’re playing sport with them or anything like that and you can see something’s wrong with them – it’s – it doesn’t hurt – and they actually really appreciate it when you go up to them and say “If you need anything, I’m always here for you.” And just hearing that is actually, pretty much, what you need.

Julia Zemiro:
Don’t they say that cricket is popular in Australia because men can watch cricket and not talk about anything for ages and then just go “My wife left me” and then they’ll talk about it, watching some long – I’m sorry – boring game and then they’ll go “Oh you must be feeling bad?” “Yes I am.” You know, but they’re still looking at this thing but the beauty of it is it might take them a whole one day test to get out just, a little bit of, you know. And that’s men, you know, that’s – you’d think that as an adult your starting to get your stuff together, you know. 

Andrew Fuller:
Well sport in Australia is just there so that men can talk to one another. So guys generally kind of bond a bit over activities, you know, it might be the latest cricket score, or in the football or something’s that’s happened, you know – and they’ll start talking about. Whereas, generally, I think girls tend to bond more about a separate worry so you’re right, you don’t start with your own worry but you’ll talk about another kind of common issue. It might be, I don’t know, a teacher at school or boys – yeah that’s right and so – and then it will kind of filter down from that first worry to the real worry that you’ve got and you kind of – whereas the guys will kind of start with I don’t know “What do you think about this particular player?” or “What’s gonna happen in this kind of…” and then it sort of goes on for a bit and then sort of say “Hey, how’ve you been lately?” “Not bad, yeah yeah.” and you sort of go “Are you really ok? Because, you know, I’ve been thinking you’ve been a bit different.” And it sorts of works its way, it’s sort of like a – and I think it’s a bit different for guys and for girls. 

Julia Zemiro:
What are some of the things you’ve done in your school to look after your friends and peers?

Loren:
While I was in year 12, in the weeks leading up to exams, my friend would call me every week, and we would just have a chat because he was struggling a bit –

Julia Zemiro:
So it can just be a conversation, even?

Loren:
Yeah. It doesn’t have to be about what they’re struggling with. Sometimes it’s good to keep their minds off things. 

Julia Zemiro:
The loop. Getting out of that loop.

Loren:
The loop, exactly.

Julia Zemiro:
Can – now this is – we’ve heard about so many people helping, you know, being there, making the call, doing the – finding the adult, you know, getting on that website. But can helping other people affect your own mental health?

Ash:
Definitely. Like, I know that every time I’ve sat down with my friends and we’ve talked about how we’re doing and stuff, I always get a good feeling out of it. Knowing that I’m helping someone, I feel really good and it sort of gives me a buzz for the next couple of days knowing that, yeah, I’ve made a difference.

Julia Zemiro:
Ned?

Ned:
Well when you actually see good changes that are happening you do tend to feel really good for helping out and contributing but when, like, if you cared a lot about who you’re helping out, it actually tends to affect your mental health in a bad way because all you’re thinking about is – you’re worried and it’s affecting you because you’re not thinking straight, you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do.

Julia Zemiro:
So it can be good and bad. It can affect you. What about you Loren?

Loren:
I think it definitely affected my mental health negatively. So I would say know your limits as a friend. Know your role as a friend and defer to other people when you need them.  

Julia Zemiro:
That’s a great way of taking care of yourself. Would you agree with that?

Ash:
Oh yeah definitely. I definitely am only ever available for a chat, like, I won’t go any further than just a chat about problems.

Andrew Fuller:
Well there’s an old saying that you lose 10% of your sanity for every year that you help people with their mental health issues so I’m stuffed. 

Julia Zemiro:
Wow. Jeez. Do you want to talk to me, maybe?

Andrew Fuller:
That’s right. I’ve got all these problems I need to talk about. So it is important to look after yourself in the process of it. I think that the great thing about working and talking to people about their lives and about wellbeing is you get a chance to think about your own. And that can be sometimes tough because you think “Ohhh I’ve done that” or “Oh, I’ve felt that as well” but it’s also really good because you can kind of then go “Well what would I do about that?” So you sort of broaden as a person. But at the same time, you’ve got to make sure you don’t sort of end up plummeting down in the depths of life and “Have you got a problem as well?” and “Have you got a problem?” You know, you’ve got to sort of balance it.

Julia Zemiro:
Now finally, we were talking about this before: if you had one piece of advice for someone who was concerned about a friend, what would it be? Habib?

Habib:
Well for me, it just depends – because me – I like to share my opinion with anyone, because I’m one of those people. And I always tell my friends, you know, “I’m not Doctor Phil but I help. I’m not Doctor Phil but I give a straight answer like how things are.” Like, if things are bad, I’ll tell them that it’s bad. You just need to be honest with your friend but, you know, if something’s shitty going on, like, if they cross the line, you’re like “You crossed the line.” and you’re like, you know, “You’ve got to fix it.”

Julia Zemiro:
You’ve got to tell them. What about you Loren? 

Loren:
Do all you can in your capacity as a friend but they have to fix it themselves. You can’t fix people.

Julia Zemiro:
Ned? 

Ned:
I’ll have to agree with Habib on that one. He’s like, spot on. Yeah.

Julia Zemiro:
And people don’t do that do they? They’re not honest with their friends sometimes and say “That’s enough.” What about you Ash?

Ash:
Don’t rely on yourself to change the world – has been my biggest one –like –every time I see someone that needs help I’m like “Oh my god I have to help that person, I have to make them better.” But all that does is make you horribly depressed when you don’t change someone. So just do what you can and be the best you can. Don’t force anything. 

Julia Zemiro:
Andrew?

Andrew Fuller:
I think it’s sort of, trust your own gut instinct, you know. If you’ve got a feeling about somebody, that you’re concerned, I think it’s always better to do something rather than just kind of stew on it. But also, as you rightly say, it’s not about feeling like you have to solve the entire problem. It might be linking them with somebody. It might be going along to a counsellor with them to help them kind of bridge that person. It might be talking to a teacher about just, you know, you’re worried about them and you’ve noticed a few changes: could they kind of keep an eye on it as well? So it’s important not to feel like you’re the whole, kind of, answer, but, at the same time, you’re just starting to open the questions, so they can kind of think about it. And, for somebody who has, sort of crossed the line, it’s also giving them the sense of, you know, “You’re better than that. So how about coming back on this side of the line. Let’s restore our friendship too.” So that you don’t kind of get that kind of warfare going on. Not physically, but you know some times people go “Oh well. The friendship’s over.” That things can improve and things can repair is an important belief to have.

Julia Zemiro:
Excellent. And sometimes a strong coffee can help as well. Take care of yourselves and each other. 

Habib:
Or KFC.

Julia Zemiro:
…Or KFC.