I was sitting in my chair, trying to silence my snowballing anxiety, but you know how that goes. I was naseuous, dizzy, constantly rubbing my head and face, beating my skull against the chair, not able to speak with clarity, ect., very noticable symptoms. My sister-in-law just looked at me, then looked away. I felt judged, ignored, and crazy, for a lack of a better word. I would have preferred she had asked me what was happening with me, or how she could help me, at least acknowledge I was going through a rough time, struggling with my mental illness, anything, instead of just turning away from me.
Out of curiosity, I ran a poll on Twitter where people voted if they would prefer others to ignore their symptoms or to ask about them. The results of the vote showed overwhelmingly that people would prefer that someone gently approach them and ask questions about what they are dealing with rather than being ignored..
So how do we teach our friends, family, and coworkers to approach us in an appropriate manner? Conversely, how do we let others know we are ready to talk when we just can not come out and say so?
To begin with, we teach others how to treat us. Some people really do not know how to talk to us about what is happening with us, and, at the end of the day, there are things WE can do to cross the bridge of understanding with loved ones. Here are some hints you can give to others to alert them that that you are open to talking.
You might find it helpful to say:
- I’m not feeling quite like myself.
- Have you ever had someone you loved experience XYZ?
- I have been feeling a bit anxious. Would you fancy getting together for a cuppa or a mug of coffee?
- Things at school/work are stressful. I am not sure how to handle it.
Keep in mind, though, saying to others “I’m not okay” is acceptable and heroic. It might be the bravest thing you ever do.
On the other hand, for outsiders who are trying to find their way around talking to us about our experiences, remember that it takes courage to ask how we are doing. If one who is contending with any type of mental illness shows that they are ready to discuss their experiences, make sure you choose a location where your talk is in a private, quiet place, free of distractions and interruptions. Face the other person, make eye contact, nod your head in understanding, and if it is appropriate, ask if you can place a reassuring hand on their shoulder. Refrain from asking WHY they are depressed, anxious, ect. Most of the time we do not even know.
You might start the conversation by gently telling or asking them:
- “I’ve noticed some slight changes in you, and I care about you. I want to know how you are managing and how I can help.”
- “I’ve noticed you’re spending a lot of time alone. I’m concerned. What can I do to help?”
- “You seem like you’re not feeling well. Might there be a reason?”
- “How have you been lately? What have you been doing?I care about you. Is there something you’d like to talk about?”
- “What’s going on for you at the moment?”
Another thing you might try is, if applicable, mention other friends of yours who have had to contend with mental illness and how you’ve helped them.
With these questions and statements, the onus to communicate is lovingly put on them . You are giving them the opportunity to answer these questions or to let them give you an “I’m Fine” answer, which is also okay.
Be careful of your language, though. Questions such as,
- What’s bothering you?
- What’s wrong with you?
- Why are you acting like this?
are inappropriate and damaging. They can feel condemning. On the otherhand, be supportive. Don’t judge. Don’t push them. Keep letting them know how much you care. Then just listen, listen, listen. Don’t offer answers or tell them what to do.
HOWEVER: If you fear they are in serious danger, such as self-harm or are suicidal, call emergency services or let someone else know immediately, even if your friend says do not.
Always follow up with your loved one. Do not just casually ask “How are you?” without following it up with genuine interest and concern. If you don’t know what to say, just follow up with, “I hear you. It sounds like this is awful. Is there anything that helps or ways that you know of that I can help?”
Afterward, research the illness with which your loved one is dealing. Educate yourself on the symptoms, warning signs, and treatments with which your loved one is dealing. Know that you can not “fix” it, and you aren’t their therapist. Your job is to be a listening ear so the sufferer knows they are not alone and someone understands.
Lastly, Stephen Fry offers this perspective:
Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.”
Yes, be kind and be noble. Your loved one needs you. Gently open the lines of communication. If my sister-in-law had approached me, or I had said I was not okay, we might be closer in our relationship now, instead of judging each other from different perspectives of the mental health world.
I would love to hear from you!!!
What would you add or take away from this list?
Are your family and friends sensitive to your mental illness?
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