Many of us have a strong friend — some of us even are that strong friend. Whether financially, academically or socially, strong friends are the ones who seem like they’ve got their life together. A strong friend is like a knight in steel armor — always ready to save the day.
Consider Tavon Fields, a student from Purdue University who made newspaper headlines in 2017 for successfully tackling a thief who stole an art teacher’s wallet. While Fields said he wouldn’t describe himself as a “tough guy,” his roommate Khari Stewart said Fields was confident and “always the first to step up.” Fields was a bright, young student in computer graphics technology with a loving family — the seemingly perfect strong friend. Yet in 2019, social media was shocked to learn that Fields had committed suicide. In response to the possibility of foul play, his sister wrote “Yes, he did commit suicide. It’s just a realization to check on your strong friends and family.”
But take it from me — it’s hard to be the strong friend. In an effort to comfort or advise others, we sometimes neglect our own issues and our mental health. We forget we aren’t made of steel, which without proper care can rust away.
Unfortunately, the rates of depression and suicide are on the rise in America. A recent study from Blue Cross Blue Shield found depression rates are highest amongst young people. From 2013 to 2016, the depression diagnoses for teens rose by 63 percent and for millennials 47 percent. Another study from the CDC found that in all but Nevada, suicide rates increased between 1999 and 2016. In 27 states, half of those who committed suicide had no known history of mental illness.
Strong friends will often try their very best to conceal their pain until they just can’t fight anymore. Therefore, if you have a strong friend, I would advise you to check up on them. A few signs that your strong friend may need support could be:
THEY ARE BEING OVERWORKED
Is your friend juggling a 20–25 credit course load, a job and their social life? Many strong friends like to bury themselves in work. For some, busywork can help them to avoid confronting other issues like grief. Others, are simply workaholics. Either way, having so much to do with so little time is incredibly stressful. If you notice a huge uptick in your friends work habits, simply ask what you can do to help.
THEY ARE NEVER VULNERABLE OR OPEN
Does your friend always respond to questions about their well-being with “I’m good”?
Sure, I would hope everyone’s good days outweigh the bad, but let’s be realistic here — not every day is a good day. Some days we are angry, exhausted or sad. However, strong friends are dedicated to maintaining a facade of perfect happy life. They will be hesitant to share what is really going on in their lives with you. Let them know it’s okay and you are there for them even if every day isn’t a good day.
THEY AREN’T KEEPING UP WITH SELF-CARE
Sometimes the internal struggle is so great it starts to take a toll on a strong friend’s outward appearance. If you notice your strong friend hasn’t looked quite like their self. Ask them if they are okay.
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP YOUR STRONG FRIENDS?
Your strong friends are usually always there to support you, so why not reciprocate the behavior? If they go to school out of state, send them a care package or if they are nearby, invite them out for coffee. Write or type them a letter letting them know how special or important they are to you. I’m grateful to have an aunt who checks up on me via text. It’s interesting because her messages always come at a time when life isn’t peachy keen. A simple “Hello, just wanted to check up on you” can make a world of difference.
IF YOU ARE THE STRONG FRIEND
If you are the strong friend, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Located in MAT 354 is UWT’s student counseling center. Students can meet with a licensed psychologist or social worker during the walk- in hours found online. The best part is that there are no fees for students who are currently enrolled! Lastly, talk with your friends or family and let them know what’s going on. You aren’t alone and there are people there for you — family, friends, councilors, teachers who care about you.