Supporting Someone with a Mental Illness
While breaking the stigma of mental illness is so important, it is also important to learn how to support the people living with these types of illnesses. It can be difficult, it has not been talked about enough. When someone has the flu, you know to comfort them, encourage them to rest, etc. While when someone breaks a bone you know to help them navigate around their home safely, get them the things they need and keep them close, and to check in on them often.
These same practices need to be encouraged in the mental health community, because often with a mental illness comes so many physical symptoms. These feelings can include but aren't limited to; extreme fatigue, decreased pain tolerance, aching muscles and sickness. What do these symptoms sound like? A flu or other medical ailment? Yes! Having to tend to a mental illness is almost as simple as caring for a physical illness, the difference being the illness is not visible.
You can see the healing process of the flu very clearly, the cough goes away, the person gains their appetite, etc. Look for these types of small changes with mental illness as well. When I am having a better day I will be less hesitant to interact with others, I will be in a generally better mood and I won't stutter or pull at my hands as often when speaking to someone. Small changes, the healing process. Notices these changes, don't make them feel extraordinary, but notice them nonetheless. Encourage them softly, as you would slowly encourage a little more soup with each meal to give someone with the flu more energy. I can say from experience, that when I achieve something small in other people's eyes but large in my eyes (going to a public place; the mall) and someone in my circle notices. Simply noticing this as a positive step forward for me, makes me feel like I am doing okay. The ten things I did that day that I believe they viewed as negative, don't feel as overwhelming. Having recognition that something difficult for me was noticed and praised, well we all know that feeling. It makes us want to continue experience that feeling, continue positive change. Though we may not notice these small victories encourage positive change, in my opinion they are the best form of treatment. Having reinforcing messages from our loved ones pushes us forward, in an illness we always feel to be going backwards. Encourage everyone around you, if you notice someone is uneasy in a public situation talk to them. Tell them you are glad they are there. If someone seems overwhelmed, ask if they'd like to get some fresh air and just talk to them. Not necessarily about how they're feeling in that moment, take their mind off what is making them feel small.
Sometimes distraction, in a moment of distress is the best coping strategy. The mind as we all know is powerful, and sometimes it just needs to be sidetracked a little bit. Along with taking care of people in their moments of weakness, the same policy goes with long term support. Small victories and small gestures. Asking them out for coffee (or in, if going out is too much), doing their favourite activity with them, asking what they would like to do. Spending time with others is a crucial part of mental health recovery, but it is often hard to ask. Spend time with someone if you believe they are suffering, listen to them. Encourage them to talk to you if they would like to.
The final topic I am going to talk about today is education yourself. (surely these are not the only ways to support however) Knowing a glimpse into what the person is going through can be a game changer. Talking to someone yourself can be helpful if you know you will be supporting this person long term. While a general education on the illness your loved one is going through is not going to give you all the answers, as everyone is different. It can help you know what to look for, understand symptoms, and gain knowledge on the general condition. Just knowing that they are worth the little bit of work, is reassuring in itself. Reassurance is huge, and important for anyone in recovery.
Overall, caring for someone with a mental illness is not as difficult as it may seem. I will admit, we will test your patience and fight you on supporting us from time to time. That is the illness talking and that is not our entire being, fight through it. Remember your loved one for who they are, and ultimately try to make them feel as close to "themselves" as you can. Recovery is a long, confusing and difficult process. However it is, like I have said over and over again the most worthwhile process you will go through.
Take great care and stay safe,