How Can I Help?
What to do
If you are a support for someone with a mental illness of any kind, you have probably been told numerous times what not to do when dealing with that person. But often, there is little clarity in what we should do. It can be draining and incredibly time consuming caring for a loved one who suffers mentally and I can imagine that constantly hearing "No, don't do this. Don't do that!" would become frustrating. You can begin to feel helpless and even hopeless that they will ever get well again. Now, I will never attempt to speak for everyone, but this is what I would find beneficial.
- You are not alone... Just like the picture up there states, remind me that I am not alone. That no matter how separated from others my illness makes me feel at times, you are here supporting me and I am never alone. Give me a hug or cry with me. Let me know that you are aware of me and what weighs on me.
- Acceptance... One of the worst feelings for me is having someone I trust respond with skepticism to my honest confession of how I am actually feeling and what's really going on in my mind. Please remember, mental illnesses are happening behind the scenes and sufferers can become very efficient at hiding "the sick". If and when I choose to open up to you and let you in on my scattered world, accept what I am telling you even if my portrayal would appear otherwise. If I tell you that I am depressed and you just saw me laughing a minute ago, do not doubt the statement. Sometimes, when I am laughing and smiling the hardest is when I am in the most pain. And if you ask how I am and I respond with "I'm fine", it usually means I'm not fine. Please use wisdom in this area.
- Honesty... I know that what I'm going through is difficult to deal with and witness and that you won't understand everything I'm saying or feeling. I don't even understand everything I'm feeling! So just tell me that. Tell me that you don't understand it all but that you are still with me and are open to broadening that lack of understanding and knowledge as best you can. You are only human and I get that. I will appreciate your continued support despite the difficulties in providing it. Thank you.
- You are okay... This one is two fold. Something that is a constant in my mind is the fear that I am not okay. That something has to be wrong with me or else I would be able to cope differently and function in life "normally" (whatever that is). Just remind me, as I remind myself, that we all have our struggles but that doesn't decrease our value. And if I express to you that I am feeling panicky or on the verge of an attack, reinforce the fact that I am not a horrible person for eating that meal or taking care of myself, remind me that it is okay to be kind to myself and that I am actually safe despite my thoughts. Having stated that, your words may not provide instant gratification to me or "right away" results for you. With your best encouragement, sometimes I may still go and engage in things you and I would rather I didn't... But that doesn't mean all is lost. Fighting for recovery and good mental health is a process. I didn't develop this over night, it isn't going to suddenly vanish.
- Ask... Just ask me how you can best help and what I need from you. You will most likely reach a point where you have tried everything above and more and are just all out of ideas. Your last resort-- though it doesn't have to be-- might be asking me directly how you can help me get well. And I may not even have an answer for you. Or I may have several and it may feel like criticism. I don't intend for the suggestions I offer to sound like demands or put downs and I hope they don't. I hope that this list (which I may expand so continue to check back) is useful to those of you out there who have family or friends that live with and fight mental illnesses. Sometimes I don't know what to say or how to ask for help and I understand that you may not know how to offer it. And that's okay. We are going through this together.
To all supports out there: please make sure that you are taking care of yourself in the midst of what is going on. You deserve self care just as we do. Please remember your boundaries and do not be afraid to use them. It can be overwhelming caring for an ill person and should it feel like too much to bear, please reach out for help and support for yourself. Places such as The Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders and Sheppard Pratt Health Systems are great places to start if your loved one is struggling. Take time to unburden yourself by praying and seeking God's guidance and help (which He will certainly provide), spending time with friends or taking a few hours to unwind, go on a walk to clear your mind, take a nap, talk with a pastor or friend who can offer support and wise words of encouragement as you fight the illness with your loved one. Don't run yourself dry. Remember, you can not be there for us if you are not there at all. Take time for yourself, you are still important and we will still love you. You are not alone.