one man sits quietly in the dark, and a woman sits enjoying a video chat with a friend. A rainbow weaves between them.

Ask the Advocates: Mental Health (Social Support)

We asked two of our advocates, Donna Hacker Smith and Bouba Diemé, the question: What kinds of things do family and/or friends do to support your mental health? Check out their answers below!

Family and friends supporting mental health

Donna

Of course, the first line of support is communication! I appreciate the friends and relatives that make a phone call, send an email or text asking how I am. Anything that breaks up the isolation and loneliness is most welcome.

Every afternoon at 5, a trio of friends join in a “social hour” via text. As we are all women living alone, checking in on each other’s health and well-being is vital. We share our activities, daily goals, etc. This has become a much-anticipated time of the day.

My professional colleagues have just met physically for the first time in three months, but we had been meeting via video conference every Tuesday for prayer and conversation. This was an invaluable resource for dealing with a feeling of loss of control and helplessness because I cannot do my work. Praying together has been a great resource also.

Social media can be positive or negative. My friends on Facebook who share useful information or jokes are making a positive contribution to my mental health. Those who are contentious or overly political are less a positive influence. I try to be judicious in indulging in social media communications but seeing a funny meme or a cute photo of someone’s child, grandchild or pet is a bit of a boost!

I am also blessed with neighbors who check on me and have shared jigsaw puzzles with me. This game/project is mentally stimulating and gets me “outside of my head” a bit. I can move away from worrying or anxiety when I am just trying to fit puzzle pieces together!

Bouba

Each heart failure patient’s story is different. In my case, my biggest challenge has been on the mental front. My circumstances added another layer of complications to my situation.

Life on the outside is already impossible for someone like me. Now, I must be a ‘good’ heart failure patient and somehow thrive. Then, I have the personality and personal traits that make it hard for me to ask for help or let others help me. I am also an introvert, very proud, and confident.

However, my family and friends do a lot to support my mental health, by mostly just being there for me. They would always show me and remind me of their unconditional love for me. Over the years, I have learned to appreciate them and what they do for me more and more. Their love helps me get over any bumps in my road.

Knowing myself and understanding how heart failure manifests itself early on, my strategy has been to avoid or at least minimize the amount of time I would feel moody or down. With my family and friends, I try to communicate more proactively about how I am feeling now. For instance, I have learned to say when I am feeling tired, or when I am just out of it.

In those moments, what works for me the best is being left alone for a while, until when I am ready to talk about it. As time goes, I think my family and those close to me have learned to also recognize the early signs. For example, my wife or my in-laws may offer to look after the kids or do our house chores while I take a break or get a short nap. But what is more common are expressions of love – in many ‘languages’ such as hugs, words of support or appreciation and the most common in our family: food, a lot of food.

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