Question from Rene
Hello! My friend is struggling a lot right now, and I’m seeking advice as to how to best help her. She is 18, and I’m 17. She has told me she has stolen her mom’s sleeping pills. She laid down in the road in the middle of the night on multiple occasions and could have been run over because she wanted to “feel something.” She says she does it for attention.
She tends to be a very reserved person, and says she doesn’t want to talk to me about her feelings because “my problems are more important.” I know she spends five-plus hours at a time crying, but don’t know how frequently it happens. I’ve reached out to her parents about some of these problems, and recommended getting her a therapist but they didn’t listen.
She doesn’t acknowledge that she has a problem and says she’s “just being dumb.” I want to help her so badly, but don’t know what to do. I’ve given her some ideas of possible treatment options and self-care practices that I’d be willing to try with her. In the past, I haven’t been the best person to talk to, but I have made it clear that I’m here if she wants to talk.
She’s coming over in the next couple days, and I plan to talk to her about some coping mechanisms for when she’s feeling reckless/needs to feel something, some goals for self care, a possible treatment plan to execute once she’s ready to, and how I can better help her and be there for her.
I don’t want to scare her by pressuring her, but I know her and know that little will change if I don’t guide her through it. Is there anything else I can do or anything I should be doing differently?
You are doing beautifully. You are being a wonderful friend. And you know enough to know what you do not know. You are not a therapist. You are not even yet an adult and you understand that your friend needs help beyond what you can offer her.
I am very sorry to hear that your friend’s parents are not responding appropriately to the urgency of their daughter’s situation. Her behavior is reckless, dangerous and also selfish. You can well imagine how a driver who may hit her would never get over the incident. But people who struggle with mental health issues are often unable to see beyond their own pain. This is why professional help is so vital.
Offer to call or text a helpline with her. I can highly recommend Teen Online. Reach out together for the help that your friend needs. She is so blessed to have you in her life.
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Question from Lila
Hey, Weezy! I’m looking for some advice on how to help someone with an eating disorder. A few months ago one of my teammates seemed off at practice and when I approached her to see if she was OK she broke down and told me that she hadn’t eaten in a few weeks. When she explained why, it was clear that she was developing an eating disorder.
After calming her down, I insisted that she sit out for the rest of practice because she was in no condition to be playing. Since then, I check in on her, making sure that she has something to eat and also someone to talk to. She tells me that she has been eating but, obviously, there is no way for me to be sure that she is.
Within the past month I’ve definitely noticed her getting better and I have seen her eat, which makes me believe she is making progress.
Then just last week another one of my friends texted me in tears because she had asked her brother to grab her a granola bar but both her dad and her brother told her no because she had already eaten one. This made her feel extremely self conscious and she broke down saying how she doesn’t deserve to eat or live because she is ugly.
I tried my best to calm her down and assured her that she is beautiful and deserves to eat. She seemed to have calmed down and told me that she now realizes she does deserve to eat and even sent me a pic of her getting a granola bar.
But again, how can I be sure she is actually eating and is OK? I was hoping you would have some advice on how I should handle it next time something like this happens. Obviously I know I am just a friend and it is not on me to help everyone, but I feel like as a friend I do have some responsibility.
You are a fantastic friend. Eating disorders are quite common in people your age as you are seeing with these two friends. Developing healthy eating habits involves finding a balance between what we eat and how much we move. This overlaps with our body image. which is directly affected by the feedback we receive from others.
Some kids are better able to sort through the confusion and make good choices. Others are prone to numb their feelings by eating too much or too little, or even binging and purging.
But eating disorders are mental health issues that affect physical health as well. You are just a child yourself. Your friends will need to speak to professionals who are trained in addressing these complicated issues. You can start by clicking here for the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. Call them yourself and ask what they recommend regarding a friend who is having a difficult time.
Folks who struggle with body image will easily interpret anything anyone says as a reason to avoid food or to engage in destructive and dangerous behaviors. In the anecdote you shared, the family could have simply been running low on granola bars. We just don’t know but your friend may be easily triggered and that is what’s scary right now. She needs to be nourished and she needs to be hydrated.
Ask your friends to think about holding a baby in their arms. Would they even think of denying nutrients to that baby? Of course not. Your friends are also God’s children. They do not get to starve the bodies they have been given. It is our responsibility to care for ourselves as we would for any other precious individual.
Your friendships and your concern are precious gifts. But contact the helpline. This is what they do. And thank you so much for reaching out and being there for your friends.
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Got a question for Weezy? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and it may be answered in a subsequent column.
— Louise Palanker is a co-founder of Premiere Radio Networks, the author of a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age novel called Journals, a comedian, a filmmaker (click here to view her documentary, Family Band: The Cowsills Story), a teacher and a mentor. She also co-hosts the podcast Media Path with Fritz Coleman, and teaches a free stand-up comedy class for teens at the Jewish Federation of Greater Santa Barbara. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.