So last week I wrote a post about lots of the things that you should never say to someone with a mental illness. This week, I’m going to tackle things that might actually help, which is much, much trickier.
As always, this is my personal opinion. Everyone’s experience with mental health is different, and what might help me may not help someone else. This is simply a list of things that I’ve found have helped me and my friends.
- Listen, don’t talk
One of the most difficult things to do is tell people about my struggles with mental health. Particularly loved ones, because I desperately want them to understand and support me. It is made especially difficult when the person starts talking over me, immediately giving advice, and not really listening to me. Genuinely, the thing that tends to help the most is for the person to just listen to me talk about my troubles. It is such a relief to let these things out in the open, and it doesn’t help if I’m being constantly interrupted. So – just listen to what we want to say. It may feel like you’re not doing anything, but you are.
- Ask questions
If you don’t understand what I’m saying, just ask. I often find that people don’t quite understand what it is like to dissociate – but instead of just pretending they understand, I prefer it when they ask me to explain further. Sometimes I can’t, and that’s okay. It lets me know that they’re really listening, which is the most important thing to me personally.
Asking questions like “is there anything else that’s bothering you?” or things like that can also encourage people to continue sharing. There may be something else that they didn’t want to tell you right away.
- Practical/non-practical advice
This is a bit of a bone of contention between me and my friends. Sometimes, it is most helpful to first tackle problems that you can fix immediately. For example, I often get stressed about mess in my house. When I get upset, my boyfriend and I sometimes clean the house, and it helps. Even though it can’t fix bigger problems, tackling one of my smaller problems can make the others seem less scary. However, sometimes I’m not looking for practical advice. I want someone to listen, give me a cuddle, and tell me that I’m loved.
My advice – ask the person you’re trying to help. Sometimes we don’t know what will help the most, and once again, that’s okay. Try a mixture of practical advice and general reassurances, and see what works.
- Dark humour
I really debated whether to include dark humour on this list, because I know it isn’t for everyone. However, I had to include it, because it is honestly one of the things that has helped me most in my journey through mental illness. My friends and I are known for our dark sense of humour, and we often take the piss out of serious things we’re experiencing. Obviously, this is totally down to personality. Don’t whip out the suicide jokes with someone you don’t know well. But in my opinion, making a joke out of mental illness takes its power away. It becomes something I can talk about – something I can tackle.
What’s helped you through difficult times? Let me know – I’m always looking for new ways to help me, and the people I love.