If you have a friend that struggles with a mental health condition like depression, anxiety, PTSD, or even bipolar disorder, you don’t have to go back to school and get an extra degree to successfully support them. Leave that to the professionals. Your job is to be there for them and keep an eye on how their mood is progressing. An easy way to do that is asking your friend this question every day:
0 to 100% – Where are you today?
I know, it sounds so easy. How can that question possibly help someone with a mental health condition? Let me explain.
Several years ago, my son was struggling with anxiety. Because I know how important it is to intervene early, I scheduled an appointment with a licensed counselor who works mostly with adolescent boys. He told me that kids have a hard time naming the emotion they are feeling. A simple way to get a check on how they feel is to name the emotion for them and have them rank how intense the emotion feels to them at that time.
Example: Hey buddy, I see that you are mad. How mad are you? From 1 to 10 with 1 being, I’m not mad at all and 10 being I’m so mad right now I want to rip things apart.
I had success using that method with my son and found that it works when he is anxious but also when he’s being a normal teenage boy trying to sort out a jumble of feelings.
It turns out that grown-ups aren’t much better at naming and quantifying emotions than kids. That’s why using a slight variation of the counselor’s method works great for your adult friends and coworkers who live with a mental illness or experience a traumatic event.
What you do:
Ask your friend or coworker, “How are you today? Seriously, if you had to give yourself a grade from 0 to 100% where are you?”
Since all of us had to go to school at some point, the grading scale is an easy and familiar reference point. (Want to see an updated grading scale with emojis? Click here.)
What you do next:
If the answer seems reasonable like, “I’m a solid 85% today. I didn’t sleep well last night but I’ll rally after I finish this latte,” then go about your business.
If the answer makes you pause like, “I’m on my ‘D’ game right now and I can’t do the work and I’m going to fail,” engage your friend in more discussion. Perhaps they need a break, vacation day, walk in the park, or other accessible solution.
Finally, if their answer scares you like, “Dude, I’m barely at a 9 and I can’t promise that it’s going to get any better,” please intervene. Call their therapist or provider. Stay with them. Send an S.O.S. message to their mom or spouse. If it comes down to it, get them to an emergency room. You are their friend and they need you to take action. They can be mad at you later.
What you do over time:
Continue to check in with your friend a couple times per week. As you both get used to putting feelings on a scale, throw in a few questions like:
Have you brushed your teeth today?
Have you taken a shower this week?
Did you eat food before noon?
Do you still have your job?
Did you drive yourself (or successfully use public transit) to work?
Do you still have your home?
Have you paid a bill in the past month?
Have you gone outside for any reason in the past week?
Are you still married/Are you still in your relationship?
Have you talked to a friend or loved one in the past week? (Text messages count.)
A “yes” answer to any of these questions warrants an immediate high-five and a “Way to go!” It may be no big deal for you to get out of bed, shower, get dressed, and get to work on time but for a friend struggling to make it through the day, completing activities of daily living feels more like climbing a mountain than brushing teeth.
So, celebrate the small victories with them. Congratulate them for functioning. Intervene when necessary and keep showing up for your friend in this easy, non-threatening way. Just like your kids, they may not come right out and say “thank you” but your actions are noticed and appreciated and may have more of an impact than you will ever know.