It is very difficult to know just how to support someone with mental health struggles.What works for one person may not work for another.Everyone copes in different ways but there are some general things I think you do to try and help.Arguably the most difficult part of seeing someone struggle is not knowing how to help or not feeling like anything you do makes a difference.
Mostly I will speak from my experience and what I have found helpful/unhelpful.one of the hardest things I have found over the past years when I have been really deep into an ED or feeling depressed is the guilt and worry about the impact it has on others.When I see someone struggle and I cannot do anything it breaks my heart.One of the things that spurred me to “real recovery” was simply not being able to see others hurt.I wanted to be strong and to support those around me, in order to do that I had to restore my own strength.
One of the first things to keep in mind is that when supporting someone who is struggling is to remember it is not your job to “fix them”.At the end of the day you won’t be able to.Recovery is an internal thing, it has to come from within.but I cannot stress the difference that it makes having someone there to simply listen to you and give comfort.Helping a loved one through their struggle with mental illness doesn’t necessarily call for grand gestures or intricately planned interventions. You cannot be the one who picks up the broken pieces and puts them back together, but you can support the person you care about to do it themselves.Empowering them to take control rather than doing it for them
I think one thing I particularly find useful is affirmation that it really will be ok.when you feel hopeless and someone comes along and gives you hope, reminds you that things can get better it makes such a difference.
People react in differnet ways,some push people away and others cling.I started off as someone who hides, pushes away.That can hurt people who want to help as closing yourself off to them when they desperately want to do something can be upsetting.Now I am desperately clingy and cannot keep anything to myself.I know that can also be hard on people around as I spill out everything I am feeling.Know that we do not mean to hurt you in whatever way we react.The thing to remember is it is not really a conscious choice.Pushing away can be a defence mechanism or a way of wanting to keep the problems to yourself for fear of hurting others.Being clingy can come from worry of being abandoned or not accepted or even just wanting comforting.Spilling everything out can can from years of keeping things in or being scared to have to sit with thoughts and feelings alone.
Supporting someone to engage in life outside of their struggles and engage in meaningful activities can be helpful. Making plans to go visit a new place or to have a study date and work on an assignment together.Seeing beyond the illness and actually seeing the person.When someone is struggling they can feel lost.At the moment I feel like someone has stolen the real me a lot of my interests, mainly sport which was always such a big part of my life seem to have vanished.A loss of motivation as well as a loss of sense of self and identity can accompany mental illness.You can help the person by reminding them of their passions and supporting them to reingage in these.Reminding them that they have lost their way a bit but there are ways to get back on track and once again enjoy hobbies,work and other activities.
Sometimes people need encouragement to get help.Going to an appointment with a friend or loved one if you feel comfortable can really help them.Going to talk to a stranger about your struggles is tough, having someone there who you know can make it a lot easier, especially if it is the first time you are discussing your struggles.
Reminding someone their struggle is valid.Please don’t put people down or tell them other people have it worse off. Of course there is always someone worse off but that does not mean this persons struggle is not causing them pain.Don’t call someone lazy or just tell them to get over it. Believe me if i could just “get over it” I would have by now.I still sometimes say i do not have a real problem,I cannot see it therefore how can it be.I always tell myself “you can’t see your kidneys but they do exist and are there”.Just because something is not visible on the surface does not mean it is not true.
Sometimes tough love can help,I have found and still find sometimes I need a kick up the backside to get help and to try to make positive changes and try and engage in healthier coping mechanisms.Tough love is a tricky one, you don’t want to make someone feel bad for how they are doing but sometimes it can motivate people to push for recovery.It really depends on the person.Some people can get “too tough” and this can lead someone to shut away and not let people in and not want to talk about their illness or lower their self esteem even more.
I think it is important to have realistic expectations and understand that recovery is not linear.Relapses occur and getting angry at a person for having one will not solve anything.When I was in eating disorder recovery I felt huge pressures from those around me to get better especially physically in terms of gaining weight and then when i was physically healthy I felt a huge pressure to appear “normal and well” despite being mentally far from it.Telling someone they are not trying hard enough when they are giving it their everything will not help.Just because you cannot directly see changes does not mean they are not happening either.recovery takes time and practice in finding what helps and what doesn’t.
When helping someone it is so important to look after yourself too.Having people who YOU can talk to and vent to when you need so you do not carry it all around.
Mental illness is a lonely place at times.I am so grateful for the support and people I have in my life now.The Objectivity, compassion and acceptance that I have received from friends and over the past 10 months my boyfriend are valuable beyond words.
Mental illness has put strains on my relationships in life,I still feel them and that makes me sad.Feeling like I was unaccepted by the people closest to me and made to feel guilt and shame is something that still has not gone away and makes it difficult to talk to certain people about it.But I have also gained some wonderful ones.
I cannot thank my amazing boyfriend enough for how much support he has given me even though I know it is not easy.It is incredible how you can know someone for only such a short space of time and yet they know you better and you feel safer and more comfortable with them than with those who you have known many years or even your whole life.Having someone who loves you just as much when you are at your worst as they do when you are at your best is the most precious thing ever.
Those who suffer with mental illness just want love and acceptance like everyone else.We also have lots of love and happiness to give just because we struggle does not mean we do not care about others and cannot support them.