Whether it’s Bell let’s talk day or any other day doesn’t matter. Talking about metal health is important.
But I’m concerned by some of the dialogue I hear circulating on the internet. For instance this post makes the rounds so often.
Why This Post Needs to Go Away or Change
This is problematic in many ways. First, the copy and paste method takes away the meaning behind the message, few people believe you because it wasn’t your words. You put no thought into the message.
This post is also problematic because a person who may need help, likely won’t actually say, “Hey, I really need serious mental support today can I come over?”
They’ll say, “Hey, I’m free today and was wondering if I could come visit?” or more likely if they really aren’t coping they’ll say, “Hey, you free today? wanna come over?”
Getting out the door can be tricky at the best of times, especially if you’re a mother. Getting out the door when you’re in a mini or major crisis is near impossible. When you’re in a crisis of any size it’s often very difficult to let someone know you’d like company. And if you do, you may not want to talk about what’s going on, you just want a friend.
What Can We Do Instead?
Well, first – talk to people. Notice people. Talk to your friends and family. Ask questions. Get to know them better. Know when they’re working through something that’s potentially heavy for them.
And talk to them. Reach out. Say, “Hey, I’m thinking of you. Would you like to get together? What’s easiest for you?”
Talk to your friends about your own struggles. Sometimes knowing someone else is struggling too can take some of the weight off. Too often we see instagram or Pinterest posts and we really believe everyone’s lives are perfect. We don’t see the yelling or crying. We don’t see cereal for dinner for a week. We don’t see the other bathrooms in the house, only the one in pictures. We don’t see the mess just outside the picture edges.
Life is messy. It’s always messy. It may be your house, your thoughts, your car, or some other part of your life. Everyone’s messy looks different. But we all carry messy with us in someway.Sarah Langner
So share your mess with your friends sometimes. Let them know you’re there and what your reality looks like. Don’t dump, just open up a little.
We could all use a little more connection in our lives.
There’s another aspect of mental health that really needs to be brought out into the open. There isn’t a one size fits all answer. One person may need to go out, one may need to stay in, one may want to talk about their problems, another may not. One may want and need medication, and someone else may not.
To Medicate or Not?
When we get hung up on the right way to treat mental illness, we lose sight of the person. We alienate them and can make things harder for them to get the appropriate help.
Yes, medication may be wonderful, but not everyone wants to take medication. Yes natural remedies may be great, but some people really want and/or need medication. I know you mean well when you suggest they need to do this or that, but it hurts them very deeply when you show you don’t trust them to make their own decisions. It also hurts when a person is getting the help they need and their treatment course is working, but their friends tell them they should try something different.
The person can feel like their progress isn’t good enough for you or that you don’t really want them to feel better.
Questioning their treatment plan can also decrease their commitment to taking their medication, especially if they follow advice that’s different than what they want. If a person doesn’t feel cared for, supported, and trusted, they’re not likely to be committed to your recommendation.
How To Offer Support
So how can you support them when you really think you know the right answer?
Well, for starters it’s important to remember you’re not them and as much as you know, you don’t know what’s best for them. When you step in, with the best intentions, and tell someone else how they should be treated, you further stigmatize them and their illness. This can create a shame response. A person will be less and less likely to share their journey and their struggles resulting in potential alienation and a deeper feeling of being alone.
If, and only if, the conversation comes up, you can ask them, “Why is taking medication important to you?” Or conversely, “Why is approaching this [holistically] important to you?” This allows them to share their journey (if they want) these questions can help them open up. They should never be used as a way to convince them to take a different path, but rather to gain a better understanding of them and their situation.
If the person is close to you, it can be useful to see a professional on your own so you can work through your own thoughts and feelings. This can help you further develop your own coping methods which can help you be there for your friend or loved one, it can also help you cope with your own life events in a healthy more effective manner.
Further Reading and Resources
I would like to take this moment to say There are cases when a person may need someone else to step in and help them request or receive medical help. I’m not talking about those cases. For further reading to gain a better understanding of if your loved on may need hospital admission, you can read more from Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
Another resource with ways to help is Here to Help. Here to Help is a Partner for Mental Health and Substance Use Information in British Columbia.
Some resources in Alberta can be found at the Canadian Mental Health Association in Alberta.
I’d love to hear if you have other ways to show up for a friend, to hold space, or to end the stigma of mental health. What are some ways you’ve felt supported by others or provided support?