Yesterdays post focused on what you can do to help yourself, but what if you are the friend or family of the one who struggles with a mental health illness? What can you do to help? Well, as someone who has been on both ends of the helper/helpee dichotomy (big word alert) here are my top tips:
1 – Don’t be afraid to ask what you can do. You may not get a clear answer, you may get the age old ‘nobody can help me’ but that’s OK. Don’t fight that if you get it, accept it. Just the fact you asked made things better and opens up the possibility of a dialogue in the future if/when they are ready to ask for help. If they give you a clear instruction then go with it but don’t be surprised if they change their mind or resist it. Many mental illnesses, such as depression, are self sustaining. The person wants to get bettet but the depression wants to stay so you get confusing messages. If they push you away don’t force it, but stay firm to any emergency plans you may have made.
2 – Be consistent. If you say you’re going to do something then do it. If you say you will text then every morning then text them every morning. Don’t agree to do something you can’t keep up. To you it may be as simple as you were tired, you slept in, you forgot, you thought they were OK that day. To them you’ve abandoned them.
3 – Don’t say any of the following: I know how you feel/I got depressed when X happened so I know what you’re going through/Everybody gets stressed at work/Don’t worry so much/Have you tried just being happy/Fake it till you make it/But you’re so pretty/smart/funny*/My sisters nieces cousins dog walker had that and took this pill and it was all better/Cheer up.
Most of these are dismissive at best and damaging at worse. A good rule if thumb is if you can’t think of anything actually relevant to say then say nothing. Sometimes sitting in comfortable silence or a hug says more than an age worn platitude.
*This isn’t to say that you should never pay someone a compliment but telling then they shouldn’t feel they way they do because of some superficial factor isn’t helpful and they won’t believe you anyway. Pay these kind of compliments during normal conversations, they’re more likely to sink in.
4 – Take care of yourself. Yoy are no good to us if you aren’t good to yourself. You eill just create us extra worry and guilt. Also, don’t complain about the strain of looking after us. At least not to us. Vent to someone else, preferably someone we don’t know. You need to vent and you need to share your own feelings about our illness but for Chucks sake don’t do it to us.
5 – Learn to walk away. Whether you’re a passing acquaintance or our main carer, our actions are not your responsibility. Some people don’t want or can’t accept help for a long time and their behavuour can be damaging to the people around them. Whether because it’s scary or violent or emotionally manipulative, it is not acceptable just because we’re sick. If someone is unapologetically toxic and doesn’t respond to a gentle conversation about boundaries and then walk away. A relationship, as friends, family or lovers, can’t survive if one person isn’t showing respect and a mental health illness is not an excuse. (Except of course ones that induce breaks from reality etc which are obviously a whole different story.) If possible leave a door open, tell them that you will always be there if they have a crisis and need emergency care or if they want to change their behaviour, but don’t let them abuse this. You have no obligation to keep toxic people in your life.
There is tons of advise out there for people who want to know how to support people and this is just a drop in the ocean. Do remember though that mental health care is not a one size fits all. While some staples always work – therapy is a proven as are some panic attacking avoiding techniques – it’s beat to talk while things are calm and work our your own plans.
And finally, thank you to those who support us. You rock.