#mentalhealthmonday – what to say to people with mental illnesses

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.

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16 thoughts on “#mentalhealthmonday – what to say to people with mental illnesses

  1. Grab the Lapels says:

    My husband went to a lecture on how to be a better manager, and the recommendation is that when your employee expresses an issue, don’t simply “fix.” Sometimes the person just wants to complain, and then they feel better, but when we offer advice and try to “fix” immediately, the person has to consider, defend, or accept the advice, which may be even more overwhelming. He said that this advice for managers works well in a marriage, too, and I agree, especially if someone in the marriage has mental health issues.

    Liked by 2 people

    • xtine says:

      I totally agree, feeling like someone is trying to “fix” me or the situation only makes me feel worse – like I shouldn’t have let myself get to this point, I should’ve known better. And boy, once the “should”s start, it’s all downhill from there.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Grab the Lapels says:

        The solutions just present problems, for me. Like…almost like math problems. Don’t give me new problems to solve when you know I’m not good at those. Just listen to me tell you how much and why I hate math.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. xtine says:

    “listen, don’t talk” is one of the biggest ones for me. I’m glad you brought that up, because I think it’s something I have trouble explaining to my loved ones. 9 times out of 10 if I’m talking about my depression with someone I care about and trust, I’m not looking for them to “fix” how I’m feeling, but rather looking for them to help validate that it’s okay for me to feel a certain way. This is really hard for people to understand, because they love me and don’t want me to feel like shit. They want a solution, but sometimes there isn’t one. It’s like you said, sometimes you don’t want practical advice, you just want to feel loved.

    Liked by 2 people

    • whatthelog says:

      I’m so glad that resonated with you 🙂 And I absolutely agree – someone being there to just let me vent and reassure me that I’m going to be okay is so helpful.
      Thank you for commenting – that really means a lot to me, especially with these mental health posts. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • xtine says:

        Thank you for posting them! Honestly, it really helps me to be able to read other blogs and realize that I’m not alone in dealing with this, that I’m not just “crazy” for having certain thoughts or feelings. I get so isolated that it means a lot to be able to connect with other people online. ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Jackie B @ Death by Tsundoku says:

    I struggle a lot with “listen, don’t talk”, but I think it’s the most powerful. I am definitely someone who wants to help, provide practical advice, and give concrete next steps. But I do that with everyone! Is it appropriate for me to share that compulsion with people, and tell them it’s okay to tell me “Stop it.”? I want to maintain these relationships, and I want to help, but I don’t want to feel like someone struggling with mental issues needs to also manage my own issues.

    This is so hard because there is no right answer. Keep this great work up, Wendy! I appreciate it a ton.

    Liked by 1 person

    • whatthelog says:

      I imagine for some people your practical advice would be amazingly helpful. Breaking down big problems into little, achievable steps that you can help them with – that’s incredible! But you’re right, it isn’t always appropriate. I think it would be best to ask the individual what would help them the most at that time. Or, start with general reassurances, and give one practical suggestion after a little bit.
      It is so easy to interpret practical advice as being told what to do, like you know what’s best for me better than I do. However, I do think that it is obvious that you care about the people you’re helping – nobody is perfect, and mental health stuff is tricky. I know you’ll figure it out 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  4. ahitsdina says:

    Ah, even as someone with mental illness, I really struggle with listening and withholding my opinion/advice. I definitely will work on it more now that I have read how it feels from someone else’s perspective. Your blog helps me a lot, Wendy. Hope I can figure out a balance between listening and giving advice if/when it is needed.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Bina says:

    This is such a great series and super helpful. Listening sounds so easy but it’s quite difficult! Part of this is backing off I find, because friends and family of course really want to help but when I say I need space, I need space.

    Liked by 1 person

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