I volunteer at a blog where people write in anonymously and ask all sorts of questions about mental health. Questions range from, “I’m feeling anxiety, what do I do,” to, “I don’t know how to deal with my friend who has this specific illness.”
One of the most common questions I get is how to talk to someone about mental illness.
Reading these questions, I realize how blessed I am to have people that love and support me no matter what. I know that not everyone has such a great support group in their lives. However, even with this support, the people in my life haven’t just jumped on board right away. I had to go to great lengths to educate them about how it affects me and how it manifests outwardly.
A lot of the time, it seems like the people who write into the blog are looking for magic fixes to make their family or friends suddenly understand exactly where they are coming from and how to help assist them with their mental illness. I get the appeal of this kind of thinking, I truly do. It’s so much easier to emotionally dump on someone and have them rescue you from the pain your mental illnesses cause you. But it doesn’t work that way. No one can read your mind, and no one has the power to swoop in and take pain away.
“Most of the time, when people feel like those around them aren't supportive, it's because their support network doesn't have the experience necessary to know how to help someone with mental illness.”
Most of the time, when people feel like those around them aren’t supportive, it’s because their support network doesn’t have the experience necessary to know how to help someone with mental illness. Of course there are people out there who will tell you that you are making things up, but this isn’t the majority. Most of them will be supportive, concerned, loving, and possibly scared. They probably won’t know how to react to the news of your mental illness. And that’s okay.
Having talked with a lot of people about the problems I’ve experienced, here are the steps I found work best for telling someone what you are going through.
Understand That They Are Likely Coming From A Place Of Ignorance, Not Disrespect
A common complaint I get on the blog is that people feel like others in their life don’t understand or care about what is going on in their lives. I believe that, given the chance, most people want to help those around them, but they may not know how.
People that I’ve talked to about my mental disorders have not had much experience with the mentally ill. They don’t know what it looks like, so they don’t know how to react. Education is a great way to help these people become more comfortable with what mental illness looks like and how to react to it.
Come Prepared With Resources
If you talk about your problem with your loved ones and don’t offer a solution, they won’t know what to do. Resources can be a great way to help others brainstorm solutions and have advice to draw on when you’re going through difficult time.
The National Institute of Mental Health as well as the DSM are really great places to get information about your mental illness. You can also use Google to try to find other resources. But be careful. You want to make sure that the credibility of your information is sound. Avoid sites like Yahoo answers and Quora where anyone can answer.
Encourage Questions Now And Later
One of the best things I’ve found in talking about my mental illnesses is having a dialogue with the people that support me. While giving them a lot of information to start is good, they won’t know what they could get stuck onwith right away. Being open to questions helps them see that you’re willing to work with them, and makes it easier for them to want to help you.
I know it can be scary to make yourself vulnerable to other people. A mental illness is a personal thing, and what works for someone might not work for you. You’ll have to help them learn what works best and the only way to do that is through an extended discussion.
Be Patient With Them As They Learn How To Deal With Your Mental Illness
One thing that is hard to remember is that you have had a lot more time to adjust to the presence of this illness. It does take time to adjust, and your loved ones will need that before they will be able to assist you in the best way possible.
It can be tempting to get mad at these people when they don’t get it right the first time. Do your best not to be angry with them. Instead, talk with them about how their reactions affect you, and give them positive suggestions on how they can improve.
Especially if you’re not used to talking to someone about sensitive subjects, this can be very difficult at first. But with time, you’ll get the hang of it, and you and your loved ones will be better off because of your efforts.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National
Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free,
24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please
visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database