Something I’ve noticed is that, for the most part, people want to help those who they feel need assistance. Take some time when you have a minute, go to YouTube, and search “Faith in Humanity Restored”. There are plenty of examples of people showing kindness to those who need it.
It only makes sense that when somebody hears a friend is struggling with mental illness they want to help. But depression is a bit more complicated than paying for somebody’s groceries, or helping a cat out of a tree.
In those examples you see a need and you meet it.
It’s not possible to see inside somebody’s mind, making it rather difficult to determine what somebody needs mentally. And even if it were possible, what works for one person may not work for another.
Quite a difficult situation for somebody watching from the outside.
While I don’t claim to have the “one size fits all” answer of how to help the person you love with mental illness, I do know what not to do.
Don’t tell us, “you need to learn how to control your emotions.”
We already know we need to learn to control our emotions. It’s the reason we go to counseling, take medication, or look for other forms of therapy.
(It’s also the reason we tend to develop addictions to anything that will make us stop feeling the way we are, or to just stop feeling entirely.)
We are well aware of our shortcomings, which is why we feel like a burden to those we love. How do you think you’re helping by pointing them out to us? All you do is prove to us that we really are a burden in your life.
If you were hiking, and your friend broke his leg, you wouldn’t tell him, “you better fix your leg or you’ll be stuck.”
Carry him down the freaking mountain!
Take him to the hospital!
Your friend already knows his leg needs fixing, but pointing out the need doesn’t fix it. Be there to support him, and help him with the things he currently can’t do for himself. His leg will get better as he is cared for, and eventually the leg will be fixed.
The same principle applies to mental illness.
We’re going to have hard days. Sometimes, for reasons we may not fully understand, we aren’t going to be able to control our emotions. We try to hide it by isolating ourselves, and sometimes you might interpret that as us being rude, but we’re trying to lessen any burden being placed on you by removing ourselves from the situation.
Now, I mentioned before that I don’t have a “one size fits all” answer of how to help. But it might be beneficial to share what has helped me the most.
I’ve found that the greatest help for me is simply having people in my life who don’t get upset when I tell them, “I’m not doing too well right now.”
There are days that are really tough, and I used to be scared I would bother somebody if I admitted that I was having a hard time. Like I mentioned before, it’s really hard to open up when you feel like a burden.
But learning that there are people who care about me, and who will listen to me talk about what I’m feeling…that has helped.
I’ve been identifying my weaknesses for years, so I don’t need you to point them out to me. I’m also aware of what my end goal is. I know how I want to feel about myself, and where I want to be mentally and emotionally.
While I’m on my way there I might mentally break my leg. Don’t stand there telling me I better fix it if I want to reach my goal.
Get me to the hospital.
Help me do the things I can’t currently do for myself, and soon I’ll be back on my way.