Wrote this when I was having a fit…you know, just a regular day in the neighborhood
I don’t think I can call myself an expert in mental health; but I will tell you I do have my fair share of experience. After being diagnosed as situational bipolar as well as clinically depressed, I have found that for every supporter of great mental health, comes 5 skeptics. Many skeptics believe that depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder (just to name a few) is something a weak person claims in order to be accepted and not shunned for their odd behaviors and antisocial tendencies. Through my ups and downs, I am led to believe that being mentally healthy is probably the most important aspect of a person’s life. It is a necessity.
One would think that with the amount of people who suffer from mental health issues, more people would be sympathetic towards symptoms and treatments. This isn’t the case. Along with others, I have fallen victim to shaming and the occasional eye roll. I have gotten the old, “just don’t be depressed” statements, and the “so, do you take like happy pills?”
When I was first diagnosed, I found it so hard to get out of bed. One day, I came up with a phrase: “Only 12 more hours until I get to go home and go to sleep.” I lived off of that. Everyday, I knew that I had to leave my house, and be active. I would count down the hours until I was able to escape again. After living that way for almost two years, I started hearing myself say, “Only 10 more hours until I get to wake up.” I changed my thinking. It was certainly not overnight, but it came.
I cried, every day. Having mental illness is a silent battle. Not because people don’t know you have it, but, because people don’t know how to “cure” it. This frustrates people. There is no comparison to help those who question what mental illness is. Let me explain it: Imagine having any kind of personal issue, one that eats you alive. You cannot go to sleep at night, and you can’t stand to face the problem. It is almost too big for you to handle. To somebody with mental illness, that “big” problem is their entire life. There is no positive, and there is no end in sight.
In my own experience, a person will never know the true battle that a person goes through until it is witnessed first hand. After being diagnosed, I was faced with the issues of my own family not understanding what was going on. I couldn’t help my problems, and my family didn’t know how to help either. There were fights, nasty looks, and frustrating WEEKS. My siblings were angry with me for the way I spoke to my parents, but I couldn’t control my anger. After going through therapy, and still being in it, my attitude has become more bearable. I am able to express my emotion with appropriate words, and not break down in tears.
I have chosen to write this PSA, if you will, to explain the right way (in other words, least offensive) to love, make conversation with, and help those who suffer from mental illness.
1) Stop Generalizing
This is probably the most crucial piece of advice. Every single person’s issues are different. No two people have the same experiences or the same triggers. People connect through their various coping methods. A “depressed” person isn’t always the sad girl in the corner of a party. The party girl or the outgoing guy in class can suffer just as much as the quiet ones. Everyone has their own way of coping, and in some cases, people can overcompensate by being outgoing. By generalizing, you may be seen as non-compassionate.
2) Stop the Cookie-Cutter Phrases
This can be the phrase, “if you don’t think about sad things, you won’t be sad!” Yes, because if I also think I going to be a blonde, that will happen too! Being depressed is an actual sickness. Being anxious is an actual problem. Believe it or not, long term sufferers are working their HARDEST to overcome these problems. Try to say things like: “do you want to take a walk?” Or “hold my hand, tell me what you’re thinking.” Offer a piece of gum and keep your breathing level normal. Don’t write it off as “oh, Kate’s having issues again…” And walk away. It won’t help anyone. Before you say something, try to compare it to a problem you’ve had, and then magnify it times 20.
3) Try to Compare it to a Physical Illness
Most mental health issues can come through as a somatic problem. Meaning: when a person is anxious, their heart beats faster, their palms are sweaty, and they have actual problems breathing. Make sure you know the signs of when a person is having an anxiety attack. Even though it varies from person to person, look at his or her eyes. You should see panic. Sit with them, ask if you can talk. If he or she wants silence, do it. Don’t try to prove your knowledge. The fact that you know to be supportive is knowledge enough.
4) Don’t Treat Us Differently
Just like a person with a physical illness, people who suffer from mental illness don’t want to be stared at, gawked at, or left out. There is a difference between being supportive and giving us special treatment. Life can be hard enough when you think that no one understands your issues. It’s hard enough when you are secretly having a panic attack and don’t want others to roll their eyes and say, “oh, she’s having issues today.” My advice? Laugh, talk, and spend time with those people. It’s not going to be an easy battle.
The first step in becoming an alliance with those who are ill is to understand