approaching loved ones who are mentally unwell

This last year has been rocky when it comes to my mental health to put it lightly. However, although I often look at it all as terrible, on reflection that really isn’t the case; since last May I have been put on the right medication, I’ve got a new doctor, I’ve been offered a new diagnosis which takes a huge weight off my shoulders, and in September I’m hopefully joining a support group as well as starting therapy. I don’t know about you, but in my eyes I think that’s quite a lot to have achieved in the space of a year or so – and certainly a step in the right direction towards recovery and happiness.

As some of you may know from either knowing me personally or having read my previous blog post about suffering with bad mental health at university, I didn’t have the easiest time in first semester, and unfortunately second semester was pretty much in the same vein. However, rather than seeing this as a reflection on myself or my ability to cope/whatever you want to call it, I think it’s important to put into perspective how much of a massive adjustment moving to university and away from home is, changing environments and the people and places you’re surrounded by and what you’re doing and how you’re living your life generally speaking. It’s not fucking easy. In all honesty, looking back on it now, I’m bloody proud of myself for making it through first year alive and on top of that being chuffed with my grades. Trying to do a degree is hard enough in itself, let alone doing so battling your own brain at the same time.

Funnily enough the last month of my final semester was actually the hardest, for a multitude of reasons, one of which being that I lost two friends due to my mental health, which brings me to the point of this blog post. I mean, it’s way past due, since this happened mid-May, but it’s taken me this long to actually come to terms with what’s happened and not be in complete crisis/devastation over it.

To put a long story short two people I’m going to be living with in September essentially told me that they didn’t feel ‘strong enough’ to deal with me/live with me and it was all just very fucking horrible – rather than rehash all the gory details on here, find it in my tweet thread from the time it happened:

 

Anyway, following this happening, I was extremely hurt and humiliated and angry for a very long time – not going to lie, I still am. It’s just not the right way to approach your friend, especially someone who you know is extremely mentally unwell and simply trying their best to be alive. A small part of me now, though (the part of me that isn’t devastated and bitter about the whole situation) knows that it’s unreasonable to expect people who have little understanding of poor mental health (to the extent of mine, anyway) to know how to broach the subject in a sensitive manner, if that even is possible. However, at the same time, I don’t think I was wrong to react in the way that I did, and I know that I’m allowed to feel how I do – I do a good job of keeping myself alive in this ridiculous world and whether or not other people think I do is irrelevant – I don’t owe anyone an explanation and I don’t owe anyone any justifications as to how I’m trying to ‘get better’ when my depression is just the way my brain is fucking wired.

How do you tell your friends/loved ones that their mental health is affecting you negatively? It’s hard to know when and if that’s ever appropriate, and it does depend entirely on context. But at the end of the day, the most important thing in this sort of a situation is that said person feels comfortable and not attacked (like I did), and knows that what you’re saying is coming from a good place, and not meant with any sort of malicious feeling. There is a way to go about it and there is a definitive way not to go about it.

Ultimately, though, you need to try as hard as you can to put yourself in the shoes of said mentally unwell person – even if you have literally fuck-all understanding of mental illness, it’s important to know that they are probably doing a lot worse than you (if you’re mentally well), and they need to be treated kindly and with care. They didn’t ask for this. They didn’t ask to be mentally ill. They didn’t ask for every day to be a battle against their own mind, against their own thoughts, a battle to get out of bed in the morning, a battle to have a shower or eat a spoonful of cereal. No one wants this. Trust me when I say that no one wants to feel like this. Don’t act as though they’ve made a conscious choice to be depressed. It’s up to you as their friend/family member/whatever to treat them with kindness and respect and understanding, as best as you can.

While you don’t owe them anything per se, I think that the worst thing you could ever do to a mentally unwell person is alienate them and try to make yourself feel like a good Samaritan. It’s literally not about you. Not at all. Don’t make someone else’s depression about you and how you feel. If you’re going to do that just fuck off out of their lives, having to occasionally deal with the upsets of having a friend with depression is part and parcel of it and at the end of the day if the way you’re going to react to that is by attacking their character for 90 straight minutes then you don’t deserve them. Yes, while mental illness is really awful and it does affect people’s friends/family as well as themselves, it’s not the be-all end-all. It’s hard enough when you’re the person suffering from a mental illness to separate yourself from said illness, but having other people make out like it is the entirety of your character and identity is really fucking hurtful and unwarranted.

What you have to remember is that once you approach someone about their depression or whatever it is they’re suffering from in such a way that makes them feel attacked and stigmatised, there is no way you can ever take it back – once I knew my friends felt that way about me I knew I could never forgive it or at the very least get the comments out of my mind. What you need to remember is that mental illness is a way your brain is wired, it’s a chemical imbalance, it’s not a choice. It’s the way someone’s brain has literally been created and unfortunately that’s just how it is. So attacking someone on the basis of their mental health is unfortunately an attack on a large part of who they are. And expecting them to carry on as normal after approaching the subject in a negative manner is just unrealistic.

I’m aware this blog post is all over the place (when is anything I ever write not) but it’s really hard to articulate something so close to you personally and something you’re still really hurt by in any decent way, I just knew that it was time for me to get it out of my system.

Anyway my point is this: if you have friends/family who are mentally unwell:
DO:

 

  • Be kind and cautious with what you say to them when it comes to their actual mental illness
  • Offer them support as much as you feel you can offer, not to the detriment of your own mental health though
  • Let them know you’re there – even if they don’t want anyone in that moment, knowing they have people who care about them is enough
  • Speak to them about how you feel if their MH is affecting you – however, DON’T bottle it up and let it all out in one go and in all the wrong ways. Think about what you’re saying, how you’re saying it, and put your friend’s feelings first. Mental illness is dangerous and you don’t know how easily what you say could trigger them. But it is important to be honest! An example: ‘Charlotte, I’m finding it quite difficult to cope with how bad your depression is at the moment, especially because I don’t understand it myself. Can we talk about it?’ – this is a much better way of approaching the subject – it needs to be a two-sided conversation.

 

DON’T:

 

  • Treat them like they aren’t a normal human being – they’re not an animal. They’re a person with feelings just like you and just because they’re mentally unwell doesn’t change this in the slightest
  • Attack them as a group of people. It feels like an ambush and is completely the wrong way to go about it
  • Have a saviour complex. You can’t ~fix~ them so stop trying
  • Think you know the cure to their mental health. I highly doubt you’re a qualified doctor
  • Be selfish – think about how much their mental health is affecting their day to day life before you think about the small amount it may be affecting you. They have to live with this shit on a daily basis
  • Make them feel invalid – they do not have to and shouldn’t be made to feel like they have to justify their feelings
  • Make them feel isolated. Let me tell you, when you’re depressed you feel isolated enough as it is, let alone being made to feel like that by your friends.
  • Be patronising. It’s likely that they know their mental health isn’t easy on their family/friends, but it is completely unfair to make them feel like they’re a burden on you. If you’re that delusional that you honestly think your life is more miserable than theirs as a direct result of their mental health, they deserve better friends.

Anyway sorry for the waffle as always. Will probably delete this soon because it’s not very good and not very articulate but when is anything I write ever either of the above. Thanks for reading xxx

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