Recently, I asked a group of people who suffer from various diagnoses what they want people to know. The responses were so relatable. The number one tidbit for people outside of the mental health world to know is that saying things like "you have a good life, be happy!" or "just shake it off" are about the least helpful things you can say. Mental illness is a disease. It's categorized under Behavioral Health, which is just as important as Physical Health.
For example, if we are struggling with unhealthy thoughts, I can almost guarantee we aren't taking care of our physical well-being the way we should be. Mental illness is a nasty cycle that is so much more complex than just flipping a switch.
Friends and family must also realize that mental illness comes in many forms and shows itself differently person to person, day by day. Just because someone seems "fine" on the outside doesn't mean they aren't battling strong demons on the inside. And, while medication can be a miracle worker for many, there are also those who have negative reactions or no response at all. Some even try extreme treatments such as Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) to treat their symptoms. Although those I have spoken with regarding ECT know that the treatment doesn't last forever, some described feeling "normal" for the first time ever.
Finding the right treatment may be the most difficult part of living with an illness. It can take years to find a treatment combination that works for you. Contrary to what some may believe, a general practitioner is often not qualified to handle mental health prescriptions. When someone is suffering, it is almost always best to see a psychiatrist who can help find the right medication cocktail. As many will learn, it can take a lot of trial and error to find something that makes them feel "normal" and able to function properly. It's also important to know that even the right combination will need to be tweaked or changed as time goes on, and that's OK!
It's also so important to surround yourself with people who will support you and advocate for you. Advocating for yourself is vital, but there are times where you may be so low that you just can't. When you hit rock bottom, that's when you need people to step in and help you climb out.
Then there are those who are living with and loving those with mental illness. So many times they are ignored, when in fact their loved one's illness affects them in ways those struggling don't understand. The meltdowns scar them, the support drains them. They carry our weight when we can't, and they deserve a huge amount of appreciation. And those they are supporting must realize it's not a burden for them, it's an act of love. How amazing is that?
The most important thing, though, is to be kind to everyone. You never know what they are going through, whether or not they have support or how they are feeling. A simple act of kindness may take a person off the edge without you even realizing it.
There is so much more I could go into, but remember that illness varies from person to person. So be open, listen, love and care. Be kind and supportive. Don't dismiss someone's feelings. And if you are struggling, reach out. Whether it's to a friend, family member, myself or the suicide hotline listed below, don't be afraid to talk. There will always be someone to listen.
- US Suicide Hotline: 1 800-273-8255
Have questions, comments or just want to connect? Email me here or head on over to the community on my Facebook Page!