It can be really difficult to know what the right thing to say or do is when somebody close to you suffers with mental illness. You’re may be terrified to say the wrong thing but at the same time, you want to show that you’re there for them. It sometimes feels as though you’re walking on eggshells.
From the other perspective, I find that when I’m in a bad place with my mental health, a lot of things that people say to me I take the wrong way. Some comments (even those that were intended to be helpful) leave me feeling even worse. Therefore, I’ve listed some of the things that I’d rather people not do and say to me when I’m going through a real rough patch with my mental health.
Don’t Keep Asking Me ‘What’s Wrong?’
It can be tempting when faced with a problem to identify the cause and focus on finding a solution, yet with mental illness, it’s not always that straight forward. Yes, sometimes there is a specific trigger that has caused my mental health to become worse than usual but often I can’t pinpoint what has made me feel a certain way. By asking me again and again ‘what’s wrong?’, ‘what has caused this?’, ‘well there has to be reason!’, I’m probably going to end up getting pretty frustrated with you. I’d probably like to know just as much as you but sometimes it’s a case of coping with the negative emotions and allowing them to pass before I start playing detective.
Don’t Be Overbearing
Leading on from my first point, it’s important not to get too up in my grill (did I really just say that?). The likelihood is that I need some alone time to deal with things and figure them out in my own way so constantly forcing me to talk about what’s going on when I quite frankly haven’t even processed it myself is going to be counter-productive. I will talk, but when I feel ready.
Don’t Completely Ignore Me
Now it just sounds as though I’m contradicting myself but hear me out. So maybe I don’t want you following me around 24/7 asking ‘what’s wrong, what’s wrong, what’s wrong’, but don’t go completely silent on me either else I’ll probably assume the worst! Suffering from a mental illness can already leave you feeling like you are a burden to your loved ones and if you avoid me altogether it will only confirm this belief. It’s important for all of us to have a support network who we can reach out to when we feel we need to just ‘let it all out’. Perhaps just saying ‘I’ve noticed you’re having a tough time and I want you to know that I’m here when you feel ready to talk about it’ is a happy medium.
Don’t Blame Me or Get Angry
Having a close one who suffers from mental illness is incredibly difficult, let’s not deny it. I have experience from both ends and so even though I’m often the one needing the support, I also know how overwhelming it can feel to be the one giving that support. You are trying show that you care but sometimes it feels like it’s thrown back in your face. You may think ‘why should I bother if they are just going to be rude to me, they are obviously ungrateful’. But an extremely important fact to bear in mind is that often the one suffering doesn’t mean to be horrible. It’s hard to imagine what emotions others are experiencing and why they behave in a certain way, when we aren’t the ones experiencing it.
For example, when I’m feeling down I also get very irritable and this often results on me snapping at the people I love most. I really don’t mean it and I feel terrible about it afterwards, but that behaviour isn’t part of my personality but the result of an illness. This doesn’t mean I’m not responsible for my actions because it’s important I explore healthy ways of managing my emotions without lashing out at others, yet this process takes time and in the meantime I need those around me to be patient. I need them to know that I still appreciate them, even if sometimes I can’t express it.
Finally, please don’t get angry or impatient with me if I have to carry out certain behaviours due to my mental illness. For example, OCD compulsions are irrational and can take up a lot of a sufferer’s day. As an outsider, it’s easy to recognise this behaviour as irrational and sometimes you want to get angry at the sufferer and tell them to ‘JUST SNAP OUT OF IT’ or ‘LEAVE IT, YOU’RE BEING STUPID’, yet that behaviour is really unhelpful. I more than anyone know the irrationality of my thoughts and fears and yet I can’t shake them just because somebody has told me to, and the stress of getting angry at me is only going to perpetuate my symptoms further.
If somebody close to you suffers from a mental illness, I hope this post was helpful. These tips are purely from my own experience and so I can’t say they’ll work for everyone, or that every sufferer will find the same things helpful as I do. I just wanted to share my experience, in the hope that somebody else may relate.
Thank you for reading,