It’s mental health awareness week! Wahoo! To celebrate, for the first time ever, I opened up my blog to my Facebook friends. I asked what they wanted to see more of- and I got a brilliant response! The thing I want to tackle first is how exactly people can help someone with a mental illness. It was in demand and it is so great that people want to help.
First, three important words:
“I believe you.”
Never underestimate this statement. It is subtle yet effective in the way that it works. You see, a lot of people with mental illness feel like they are misunderstood or not believed. Just these words can make all the difference.
You can’t fix it
If you ask a mentally ill person what’s wrong you may get a variety of answers. Some of the problem might be abstract- dark feelings or hallucinations. If this is the case listen. You can’t get rid of these things but you can get rid of the loneliness that person has in the situation. Good things to say are: “That must be really hard”, “You do so well to fight all this.”, “I can see how hard it must be.” And “It will pass soon and I’m here until it does”. Notice there are no questions? Questions can make the person feel interrogated or judged. Listening is your best bet.
If there is a physical problem that is ongoing, making the person distressed, you may be tempted to leap on it. Just because it isn’t as abstract as the above it doesn’t mean you can solve it. If the issue has got the person to the point of complete distress then it is not something easily solved. Mentally ill- not stupid. For some of us logic goes out the window when in crisis, to you the issue may seem to have been completely blown out of proportion but be patient! I’d encourage you to think of what kind of situation would make you feel that distressed, and act how you would want to be treated. It might be that a mug has broken, but the distress may seem equivalent to how you’d feel if you had a near miss on a motorway. As a last thought on this- problem solving at its most effective usually takes place when all parties involved are dry-eyed and rational.
Use with caution. Never give the impression that you want the person to stop talking to you or that you have heard enough. Hear them out and then, when things start to slow and calm a bit suggest doing something. “Shall we put a film on for a bit?”, “Is there anything that might make you feel a bit better now?”, “what should we do now?”. Preferably stay with them, do something else and try to promote different topics. If the problem does raise its ugly head, talk about it and then move on. Don’t make the person feel that the problem is being belittled.
If the person is out of breath or has irregular breathing then try to encourage a calming breath. Use your voice to calm and instruct in and out breath to a slow count of three. Do it yourself. You can quietly do this without saying anything, just by beginning the exercise yourself and making the breaths audible.
Reassurance is always good. You might be asked for reassurance or you might feel like it is needed. If you are being asked for reassurance- don’t even think before giving it. Say what you have to to get the person to calm down but If the person needs reassurance a lot, and not just in crisis, think more carefully. Don’t use blanket reassurance. I’m going to use an example.
*person showing distress, irregular breathing etc*: “I won’t be sick will I?!”
Friend: “No, don’t worry you won’t be sick. You’re fine.”
This is the blanket method. It helps when the person is panicking about something very unlikely and the fear or panic is intense not ongoing. If by some chance the person’s fear actualises don’t worry about covering your back. When your friend has calmed down they will realise that you were trying to help and that if anything you were both very unlucky that on this occasion the fear actually happened!
Using this example, if someone is in need of regular reassurance because they have a phobia or perhaps OCD a different tactic is needed. You can’t assure someone they will never, ever, be ill because both you and they will know that that just isn’t true. It can also not be productive to treatment to rely completely on other people’s reassurance.
An Example: “Will this make me sick?”
Answer: “Well you have felt this way before and you are usually fine once you’ve calmed down. Even if you are sick- it’s fine. It happens.”
See how you are trying to make the scary a little less so? This also can become an internal monologue of reassurance.
If someone is suffering from low mood or depression remember that it isn’t always a case of pulling yourself together and getting on with it. Anything you say to this affect won’t be taken very well by the person at all. This is by far the topic I find most difficult to write on because there is no clear solution. All I can say is try and think of it as like having flu. It’s one of those things, but you can help it get a little better by doing basics. Bathing, fresh air, healthy food and water. Keep in mind that all these things are probably not very appetising to your friend right now so coaxing and persuading might be necessary. Go back to the distraction section of this post and get something light going.
I hope this helps. This is all written from my personal experience so I can’t promise it will work for everyone but if nothing else it’s a start. Let me know if you would like to request any other topics or anything to be covered in more detail. Anyway- happy mental health awareness week!