Society often misunderstands people with mental illness because recognizing its symptoms can be quite difficult. They are often characterized only as intense personality traits or confused as mood swings. There are a lot of false information circulating and stereotypes formulated about mental health issues. This is one of the reasons why many people respond negatively or dismissively regarding mental health.
Friends who are supportive and understanding can make all the difference in another friend's mental health recovery process. If you're uncertain on how to react or what to do around someone who looks or claims to be suffering from a mental disorder, these might help:
- Educate yourself!
Research, research, research! There's no better way to help someone deal with mental issues than by understanding it yourself—be aware of its nature and symptoms. Know that there are various professional treatments made available nowadays that can help treat and overcome mental disorders. Also, find out what you can personally do to help and support them.
- Don't offer trivial solutions.
It's important to know that people with mental illness cannot just "snap out of it," so please don't tell them to. It may come out as insensitive and can trigger certain behaviors. It's not your job to save and heal them because you can't, even if you think you can. Think of mental illness as broken limbs, it will heal with the right treatment and through time with love, help, and support from the people around them.
- Be patient.
Whether it's depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or obsessive compulsive disorder—it's inevitable that their mental illness will take over and manifest itself in their treatment of you. They may hurt your feelings indirectly through their distress or by lashing out on you on purpose, but retaliating with the same hurtful things or words will not help and may only make matters worse. Instead, ask them what you can do to help.
- Take them seriously.
Please, please, please do not dismiss their concerns. Let them know you're always there to listen and that they should not feel bad about communicating their mental health needs because it is nothing to be ashamed of. Mental illness is individualized and it affects many people for different reasons or, sometimes, for no reason at all. Not everyone goes through what they're experiencing.
- Love them through actions, not just through words.
"Actions are more powerful than words." This quote holds truth in any situation. Different people perceive love differently. Sitting in silence, holding each other or just letting them cry on your shoulder can mean a lot to them. Love them even if they're at their worst. They are not their mental illness, so treat them as such.
- Take care of yourself.
For you to help others deal with issues about their mental health, you should also look after your own well-being. It can sometimes be stressful and overwhelming to respond to the mental health needs of people you care about because of unavoidable conflicts. This is why it's of utmost importance to love and take care of yourself first before you can take care of someone else. You will need to make simple to great sacrifices for the person you care about...but it'll all be worth it.
What other mental health issues would you like us to talk about?