How To Help A Person Who Has A Mental Illness

Posted by Afreen Zeb in #LetsTalk
April 6, 2017

Self-Published

This story is in response to Youth Ki Awaaz’s topic for this week – #LetsTalk to start a conversation on the stigma around depression. If you have an opinion or personal story of dealing with or helping someone else deal with depression or suicidal thoughts, write to us here.

There is something inherently wrong with our way of communication. There is too much noise and very very little empathy. Here are some things I think are very important.

BE KIND.

BEING DIAGNOSED BY A DOCTOR DOESN’T MEAN YOUR SICKNESS IS NOT REAL. So many people I know will disregard someone’s mental illness because they have never been clinically diagnosed. In a country where you can’t even talk to your friends or family, seeking professional help is nothing but a nightmare. But diagnosis is important. It is the first step of recovery, understanding what illness you have and understanding the symptoms so you can battle them.

GETTING THERAPY IS DIFFICULT . Most of the people who are suffering have diagnosed themselves. Therapy is expensive and in short, a privilege. Not everyone can have access to it, especially with the stigma involved with it. It is increasingly difficult to talk to friends and family. Professional help cannot be accessible to people for tons of different reasons. What needs to be done is mental health needs to be taken more seriously.

LISTEN TO UNDERSTAND. NOT TO RESPOND. They are not asking you for solutions. You know you do not know the answers. Please don’t be as unkind as to tell them what you think is right. If they ask for advice, only then give advice. Otherwise you are in no place to tell them what to do. You do not know what they are going through. And they possibly cannot make you understand their twisted thoughts either. I cannot emphasize this enough.

NEVER EVER COMPARE. No suffering is the same. It doesn’t matter how many disorders you have or how extreme your mental illness is, comparing somebody’s illness with yours is absolutely fucking wrong. Do not say things like oh well, I have it worse than you. Or things like I have exactly what you have and more. No. Just shut up.

DO NOT ASSUME THAT WHAT WORKED FOR YOU WILL WORK FOR EVERYONE. No two brains work alike and their experience is absolutely different than yours. Breathing calmly during a panic attack doesn’t work for me. Meditation, yoga all this bullshit doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t mean it may not work for someone else. I’ve had people messaging and giving me advice I never asked for. It really pisses me off. I know what works for me, you don’t. You might have the best intent but don’t do this.

HAVE I MENTIONED JUST HOW IMPORTANT IT IS TO LISTEN? Often I have found that people are just busy thinking about how to respond. Before they have even heard what you have said they have already formulated an opinion they want to give you. Stop that. Just fucking stop. Listen to people. So many times a person who is suffering just needs someone with whom they can share things. Because talking with their own self, battling their thoughts and invalidating their own emotions is the worse thing a person with mental illness goes through. If you really want to help then just listen out. They need patience. They don’t need your ill-formed expertise. You are in a position to help, but by understanding what they want for you. Sometimes it could be just being there.

YOU CAN’T MAGICALLY THINK SOMEONE WILL BECOME BETTER BECAUSE OF YOU. A chemical imbalance in someone’s brain will not just go away. There is no instant cure. So if you are frustrated that your help is not making a difference you need to have patience. If you take the mantle of being there for someone, you have to commit. I’d really wish people would. You can’t just stop talking to a person because they have problems. Improvement is gradual and sometimes there can be movement backwards too. But if YOU are there then you have to stay to help them. You can’t back out of this commitment. Staying with and helping a person with mental illness takes a toll on you too. So you have to decide if you want to do that. I would really hope people do this because mental illness is rooted too deeply in our society, it is inescapable and effects many many more people than you can imagine. Even if they push you away, you have to stay. Because someone who suffers is that way because people have always neglected them and made them feel like they don’t matter.

Lastly, recovery is slow and gradual but it happens. Try to help them out in little ways. Do the things they like with them. Observe them and do the things that make them happy. It is a courageous thing to do. But it is very important.

I’m a pessimist through and through and I believe life fucks you over every chance it gets. But as I believe there are bad days there are good days too. And they will come, no matter how far they are. Not being a shitty poet, that’s just how life is.

And finally. You may never know what act of kindness of yours may save someone’s life.

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