I was going to start this post with statistics and facts about mental illnesses in the US, but decided not to. I figured you could easily look that up yourself and the only reason I was planning on it was to prove to everyone that mental illness is real. I shouldn’t have to do that. A lot of people in America still don’t believe in mental illnesses being real sicknesses and there’s a huge stigma around it. I’ve truly been baffled by some of the things said to me or that I’ve heard said to other’s, even by health professionals.
“Anxiety isn’t real” or “Everyone gets anxious sometimes, you’re fine.”
“Just don’t be anxious/depressed/sad/scared.”
“What could you possibly have gone through to have PTSD? That’s only for war veterans.”
“You’re just dehydrated, go home.” (Said by a doctor, which lead to us being in the hospital the next day.)
I won’t go any further, as I’m getting pissed off now. I shouldn’t have to add in a statistic for you to see that these problems are relevant and are seen everywhere around us. Mental illnesses are obviously real. They’re real diseases that corrupt the mind and just because you don’t see me in a cast or with a gaping cut on my arm, doesn’t mean I’m not in pain. And because my illness is mental, rather than physical, does not mean mine should be treated much differently! If I need to take a day off from work to sleep in and take a break to prevent the panic attack I feel coming on, I should be given a sick day. If I need to be medicated for my trauma related PTSD or my depression, insurance should cover it just like they covered my flu medication last December. If I don’t feel well enough to go out and hit the town, my friends shouldn’t call me a flake, they should wish me well like they do when I have a fever or period cramps.
So, we know mental illness is real and we know that it’s just as relevant as any other sickness. What can we do for the people around us struggling with mental illnesses?
- The first thing I’m going to address is that if you think someone you care about is in a critical situation and needs help, don’t hesitate to get them help. Don’t worry about if they don’t want the help or not, if it’s a serious situation, call 911, a local hotline, their or even your own doctor, or a trusted adult. Here’s a link for a list of signs it’s time to get help: https://www.healthline.com/health/suicidal-ideation National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
- Ask them what they need or want. Maybe they know what helps them and how they cope best. If they need space, give it to them. If they need physical touch, hug them! If they need you to play loud rap music, get your speaker out. Everyone deals with their problems differently, let them know you’re there for them and they’ll tell you what they need.
- If they don’t know what would help, (sometimes I have no idea how to make it better for myself and I am a seasoned mental health struggler), again let them know you’re there for them and suggest a few simple things. Ask if they want to go for a walk, lay down, listen to music, talk it out, cuddle, or just sit in silence together.
- Offer them calm, supportive phrases. Even if they don’t think they want to hear that everything is okay, it could help calm their nervous system without them knowing. My closest friends know to tell me the following things: “everything is okay, and exactly how it’s suppose to be”, “you’re safe and protected”, “you’re doing enough and everything you can do”, and “i’m here with you”. My illnesses thrive off telling my brain false, irrational things that terrify me, so even if COVID-19 is messing up the world and everything straight up is not okay, I need to hear that it is to simply get over my intrusive thoughts and anxiety attack. Maybe your loved one needs to hear some facts to counteract their irrational thoughts, too.
- Be a good listener, it’s easy to get caught up in “oh I know how you feel” statements and start talking about yourself to try to get their mind off what they’re going through. Let them express their feelings and make them feel heard and loved. Talking it out and sharing how I feel helps me feel relief and like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I keep things in, because I often feel like a burden complaining about the same shit over and over. So, when someone is good at just listening and lets me just word vomit my thoughts to let it out, it means a lot.
- If you live with them, do small things every day to care for them. Get up and make them breakfast or coffee before work, do chores around the house so they don’t have to, leave them loving or funny notes, or ask if they want to go for a walk together in the evenings. Little things mean the most. And if you don’t live with them, send them a nice good morning text to let them know you care!
From nami.org (National Alliance on Mental Illness):
Things to Avoid Saying:
- “Just pray about it.”
- “You just need to change you’re attitude.”
- “Stop harping on the negative, you should just start living.”
- “Everyone feels that way sometimes.”
- “You have the same illness as my (whoever).”
- “Yes, we all feel a little crazy now and then.”
Things to Avoid Doing:
- Criticizing blaming or raising your voice at them.
- Talking too much, too rapidly, too loudly. Silence and pauses are ok.
- Showing any form of hostility towards them.
- Assuming things about them or their situation.
- Being sarcastic or making jokes about their condition.
- Patronizing them or saying anything condescending.
With all of this being said, I hope everyone is doing okay and staying safe. If you need someone to talk to don’t hesitate to contact me!