You never really know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice…
Some of us find life a little more difficult to navigate than others, for many different reasons, one of them being mental illness.
Sometimes just keeping going, just living, just surviving each day can seem like the most insurmountable task for some of us. Anything extra on top of simply ‘being’ can feel impossible. The things which others don’t think about such as going out with friends or keeping in touch with people, can get pushed down the list of priorities.
Slowly, some of us may begin to isolate ourselves.
Begin to hide away from the world, from responsibilities or socialising and people can start to form a little bubble of perceived ‘safety’ around themselves.
The mental fatigue that starts to feel physical, the thoughts that never seem to quiet down and the endless feeling of ‘failing’ can altogether become a breeding ground for the situation to simply worsen.
What you thought was a safety bubble is actually the very thing stopping you from seeing any kind of light.
Sometimes we don’t know how to help ourselves.
Sometimes we don’t know how to ask others to help us either. And so, sometimes, there are things that you can do for someone without them having to ask.
The first and probably most important thing is to try and understand where some of their behaviours and responses are coming from. If they are irritable or reclusive, it may not be because they are ‘in a bad mood’ and in all likelihood this is one the things they feel most guilty about – not being as kind or as nice to the people they love.
This is why education surrounding mental health is SO vitally important. If we all understood a bit more about the subject we could help each other in much more effective ways.
Once you’ve done this, the next thing is to think about practical ways that you can help them break the cycle. It’s important to start small.Don’t ask someone who is finding it difficult to even get out of bed, to suddenly go for a hike, you know? But it’s all relative, so a hike might be a good idea for someone else who is in a different situation.
Just work in small, manageable steps. Maybe help them to write a list of three small things they want to accomplish today. The feeling of having accomplished something can really help to ever so slightly and gradually lift the fog that mental illness can bring.
Fresh air can be a game changer. Ask them to come for a walk with you, or a drive and then sit somewhere outside for a while.
It’s good to remember that even though you might be able to tell that this person is struggling, they are probably doing everything they can to hide that fact. It may be better to ask them to join in on something you want or need, instead of saying “I think it might help you if…”. We know that you’re only being kind and concerned and trying to help, but sometimes that kind of thing might bring up defence mechanisms as we want to pretend like everything is fine and we don’t need help. At least, this is often how it works for me.
This next one can be more difficult to get right, but it’s important that someone knows they can fully trust you and that if/when they are ready that you are someone they can talk to. Generally speaking, trust is built up over time and so if you’re a family member or a close friend then trust is likely to already be there.
However, if someone is going to feel able to be so vulnerable as to speak about their mental health then they have to know that you will listen without judgment.
The unfortunate fact is that there is still a stigma held around mental illness and as someone with mental illness I can say that I still feel it. It’s just not talked about enough, and still sometimes when it is talked about it is made fun of or used in derogatory ways. It is often misunderstood and it is often judged.
In the same way that I never chose to have three liver transplants, I did not choose to have an eating disorder or anxiety. It’s the same thing.
I think you can show someone that they can open up to you in lots of little ways, so that hopefully they feel you are a safe space. Sometimes a text might be better than in person, as someone has a bit of time to process it and isn’t put on the spot to feel like they have to tell you their deepest feelings right there and then. A simple message – even if it is out of the blue – just letting someone know that you’re always here if they ever want to talk about anything can be enough to just make someone think about opening up a little bit.
To be a listening ear for someone can really mean the world.
I do feel that it’s important here to say that whilst yes, you can listen and support, you also have to be aware that you are not responsible for this person’s health. Do not take on the pressure or responsibility of becoming someone’s psychologist/counsellor/therapist. It’s important that you also continue a two way, fun and light hearted friendship. And look after your own mental health too.
Finally, I would say to anyone with a friend or family member that has a mental illness, that sometimes it can take a while for someone to want or even accept that they need help. But really in order for help to actually be effective, they have to be open to the idea. Otherwise their walls and barriers won’t come down and any help is less likely to make a meaningful or lasting difference.
Patience is key. Be with them and support them until they are ready for the help they need.
These are just a couple of different ways that you can be of support and care for the people you love who have mental illnesses and can sometimes find life quite challenging.
It’s difficult to give advice on this kind of thing, because everyone is so unique and each of us find that some things work a lot better than others.
So just know that by wanting to help, you’re already helping.
By being a good friend, by being open to conversations and by trying to educate yourself, you are doing more than a lot of others.
If we all play our part, the stigma will begin to lift and people will find that it’s easier to begin recovery because the shame of admitting that there is something to recover from will no longer exist.
Please play your part in this.Don’t use mental illness as an insult, the punchline of a joke or as a throwaway comment. And don’t let it scare you into silence.
We all deserve the help we need so that we can live at peace with our own mind.