What I wish I knew: when your best friend has a health crisis
Updated: Dec 6, 2021
Trigger Warning: suicide, mental health issues
I remember house sitting at the end of last year when I had one of those gut feelings telling
me to head back to my flat. I knew that my best friend had been struggling and you can
imagine my panic when I arrived at an empty flat and no sign of her. I later found out from
her parents that she’d called crisis and was at the hospital. I would learn a lot about the
mental health system in the coming weeks and what it meant to support a loved one while
they were under the mental health act. Little did I know that six months later I would be
supporting that same best friend through a brain tumour diagnosis and surgery.
I had never experienced either of these situations before and found myself blindly giving
everything I had to support her. I felt alone, confused, and scared. So, like any normal 21-year-old, I turned to Google for the answers I so desperately wanted:
‘What to say to someone who wants to die’
‘What to do when your 21-year-old best friend might have brain cancer’
‘How to support your friend after brain surgery’
Unsurprisingly, Google wasn’t very helpful. Any articles I read were aimed at a different
demographic – I couldn’t help my friend look after her kids if she didn’t have any!
In hindsight, I don’t think any article or blog post could have helped me. I wanted someone
to step me through exactly what I needed to do because I was scared of facing the reality of
the situation. I wanted Google to tell me that everything was going to be okay, but I know
now that everyone’s situation is different, and health is not one size fits all.
I wouldn’t wish anyone to have to watch their loved one or friend struggle with their health,
but the reality is that it something many of us go through. I have had the chance to reflect
on my experience and so, here is what I wish I knew:
Your feelings are valid too!
When my best friend was sick the biggest feeling I felt was guilt. Guilt for being upset when I
wasn’t even her family. Guilt that my personal problems were so trivial compared to what
my friend was going through. Guilt for taking time to myself.
Your friend is going through one of the hardest times in their life and they need you there to
support them. But trust me when I say that the only way that you will be able to give them
the support that they need is by first looking after yourself. The old saying, ‘you can’t pour
from an empty cup’ holds so much truth. Check in with yourself regularly, and do not feel
guilty for taking a step back when you need to.
Talk to your friend
The best thing I ever did was take the time to have deep and meaningful chats with my
friend and ask her point blanc what she wanted/ needed from me. I asked her to let me
know if she didn’t want me visiting her straight after surgery and reassured her that I would
understand completely if she needed me to give her space. Having these kinds of chats not
only bought us closer but made sure that we were both on the same page.
Remember that you are not a professional
We are only human, and you must remember what capacity you have for heavy things. One
of the hardest things I realised is that I was not responsible for my friend’s health and there
was nothing that I could have done differently. It is possible to show up for your friend while
also setting your own boundaries. Remember that you are not a health professional – you
are a friend! Sometimes the best thing we can do as friends is to simply be present – even
just sitting in silence together may be just what your friend needs.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to health professionals if you are worried about your friend.
o 1737, Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 to talk to a trained counsellor.
o Anxiety New Zealand 0800 ANXIETY (0800 269 4389)
o Depression.org.nz 0800 111 757 or text 4202
o Kidsline 0800 54 37 54 for people up to 18 years old. Open 24/7.
o Lifeline 0800 543 354
o Mental Health Foundation 09 623 4812, click here to access its free resource and
o Rural Support Trust 0800 787 254
o Samaritans 0800 726 666
o Suicide Crisis Helpline 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
o Supporting Families in Mental Illness 0800 732 825
o thelowdown.co.nz Web chat, email chat or free text 5626
o What's Up 0800 942 8787 (for 5 to 18-year-olds). Phone counselling available
Monday-Friday, noon-11pm and weekends, 3pm-11pm. Online chat is available
o Youthline 0800 376 633, free text 234, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or find online
chat and other support options here.
o If it is an emergency, click here to find the number for your local crisis assessment
o In a life-threatening situation, call 111.