I am writing this letter because mental health, or mental ill-health, is something I have quite a lot of experience dealing with. It would be good to use my experience to help others who might be going through the same kind of stuff. A lot of people who live, work, interact with people who are mentally ill don’t know what to say that might help. For that reason, it’s often the elephant in the room. People don’t want to upset the person with the illness or make things worse. Which is understandable. I get it; I really do. But, sometimes, it’s the most unhelpful response. So, these are my thoughts. They are things that do and don’t help me. Everyone is different, but these are my experiences, based on my struggles with depression, anxiety, and PTSD …
The most important thing to say is never, ever try to minimise what we are going through. All your, “Ahh, there are those worse off than you,” and, “Sure, you just need to make up your mind to get better, and you will,” speeches are the most unhelpful you can give. Don’t tell us, “Just get over it, you’ve been wallowing for long enough now. It’s time to move on.” You don’t simply move on from mental illness. You don’t just get over it. The amount of times my dad told me to do just that. Even though he constantly battled depression and anxiety, frequently giving in to it. If only it were as easy as just moving on. I suspect there would be very little mental illness in the world.
For me, the most important thing people can say is that they care about and support me. To tell me they are here for me if I ever want to talk, and that they love me whatever my illness makes me say and do. I appreciate this isn’t an easy thing to do. There are times, I’m not an easy person to like, let alone love. It takes a lot of patience to watch someone relive the same nightmares every night for years. It’s hard to understand how things don’t improve. Or, even harder to understand how they do improve, and then revert to a place that seems worse than they originally were. But, please remember, if it’s frustrating and heartbreaking for you to watch, imagine what it’s like to experience it first hand. You won’t understand, unless you’ve been there, but understanding isn’t necessary. You just have to listen and let them know they aren’t alone.
It’s important to remember we are speaking about mental illness. I know it’s been said many times before, but it is an illness. Physical or mental, if you’re ill, it isn’t your fault. Don’t judge mentally ill people. Don’t be afraid of them. You can’t catch their illness. Spend time with them. We are people who deal with an illness in the same way that someone with angina carries their spray around to help them out if things get bad.
I think it’s important you aren’t afraid to discuss difficult subjects. I know it’s easier to ignore the things that scare you. But, ignorance can have terrible consequences. Please, never be afraid to discuss subjects such as self harm and suicidal ideations. When people are experiencing these, I guarantee they are feeling incredibly alone. So, let them know you’re there. Hold their hand. Ask them if they have any plans to end their life. You may be surprised how big a difference getting them to open up and talk about their plans can make.
So, what helps? Patience. Support. Love. Friendship. Time. Being unafraid. Understanding. What hinders? Ignorance. Judgement. Unwillingness to try to understand. Impatience. Hate. Fear.
You know what helps the majority of the time, though? Being treated as though I’m a normal person. Because I am. Every single person on earth is unique. That’s how I look at it. My illnesses dont’ define me. But I do deal with them every day. I used to be ashamed, but not any more. I’ve been through a lot, with mental illness as the end result. But I’m not just mental illness. I’m a writer, a wife, a friend, a niece. All of this things come before my illnesses, and I want everyone to remember that.