This post is aimed mostly at those who aren’t suffering from a diagnosed mental illness. It’s more of an appeal than anything.
If you don’t suffer or never have suffered from a mental illness then you may find it very hard to understand what a sufferer might be going through. You may see a problem and simply deal with it. You may walk around in public like you’d walk around at home. You may sit on a bus and read a paper or listen to music as though nobody is there. You may be able to sleep soundly and comfortably at night. Good for you. You have great mental wellness and that’s something you should be happy and proud about.
However, the likelihood that somebody as described above feels proud of their mental wellness is slim. It’s normal to them to feel okay and simple things never get to them. In fact, I imagine a lot of mentally well people will look at the likes of myself and other sufferers of mental illnesses and think “Shut up moaning and get on with it!”. I know there are people out there like that; I used to be one of them. I’ve talked to people who thought exactly the same way. It’s not like sufferers can be mad about that. If you’ve never suffered then how can you possibly understand?
When I used to spit my diatribe about those with mental health problems I was blissfully unaware that I actually harboured one myself. Having been more or less forced to reflect on my past mental health, I’ve come to realise that I’ve been battling anxiety for many years with numerous bouts of depression. I’m lucky that it hasn’t got any worse than that really.
The effect anxiety and depression have on me is that when I see a problem I won’t necessarily have the confidence in my abilities to deal with it; I’ll often not deal with it at all. When I walk around in public I feel threatened by practically everyone I see and it takes little for me to become aggravated by people. When I sit on the bus I’m praying to a god I don’t believe in that nobody sits next to or near me. At night I can wake several times and sometime barely sleep at all. These conditions are more debilitating than those who don’t suffer often give credit for.
If there’s one thing I’ve noticed in the seminars and meetings I’ve been to in recent times it’s that people who suffer from mental illnesses are there for one another and always ready to show each other support. That’s a really good thing. It takes courage to admit that all isn’t well in your mind because, as much as it’s being quickly wiped out, the stigma surrounding mental illnesses still very much exists.
To that end, what I’ve also noticed is that very few people who aren’t suffering from mental illnesses are attending these things. Those who do tend to be partners or family members of people who are suffering. I can only assume, but my guess is that mentally well people hear about these events and think “I don’t have a mental illness, so I don’t need to go,” and that’s if they even think anything at all.
The truth is that it would actually open your eyes if you did go. It would educate you as to what exactly sufferers are going through and how hard day to day life is for them. It would show that you are interested. It would show that you care. Sometimes, that’s all someone with a mental illness needs. You don’t have to stay away from mental wellness education. These illnesses aren’t contagious. You could even learn how to help a sufferer and perhaps pick up on signs that someone close to you might be secretly going through it.
People with mental illnesses aren’t crazy. I think some mentally well people still have that idea in mind. The large majority of us are fully functioning people with jobs, kids, hobbies and everything else associated with being ‘normal’. There are many people who have gone on to achieve great success, even stardom, despite an underlying condition. So many mental illnesses are misunderstood that it would astound you. Schizophrenia, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, etc.; I’m sure many have an idea of what each of those things are and I can guarantee most of those ideas are completely wrong.
You, appealing to the mentally well again, are capable of being a great help to people around you who might be suffering. You don’t have to go to seminars or meetings or coffee mornings. All you have to do is let someone who’s suffering know that you’re there for them and that you’re ready to listen and talk to them when they need it. Trust me on this: a sufferer will appreciate that more than you’ll ever know. Depression especially can be very lonely. Giving a person with depression the knowledge that you’re ready to support them if they need it could be enough to give them the lift that’ll see them through the day.
Listen objectively to what a mentally unwell person is telling you and react with empathy and compassion. It may sound like something of nothing to you; that doesn’t mean it’s something of nothing to them. Make sure you remember that. Telling a person with a seemingly trivial issue that they’re being silly or to snap out of it could make the problem worse and maybe even deepen their condition. Words have the power to hurt people, so use them wisely.
Don’t shy away from sufferers of mental illnesses. Reach out to them, be their friend, and try to appreciate their standpoint. We’re all in this fight against mental illnesses together because you never know when you might be the next person to fall foul of one.