Thanks to Ashley for the idea for this post!
Being the friend or loved one of a person with mental illness is extremely difficult. Normals are used to dealing with typical emotions and thought processes from a well-minded perspective. I find that they assume that the mentally ill person in their life should follow similar thought processes. Confusion and hurt feelings is the general result as the mentally ill person’s mind acts in unfamiliar ways. So let’s talk about a few things that will help normal minded people interpret these thought processes more efficiently.
– Don’t jump to conclusions until you know all of the facts.
Facts are the most important tool in dealing with mood disorders (and several mental illnesses). If you don’t have a factual reason to reach a conclusion; then don’t jump to it. Let’s say a mentally unwell friend ceases communication one day. They aren’t responding to texts or phone calls and you don’t know what to think. What conclusion do you draw from that? Is the person in crisis? Or did they just accidentally drop their phone in the toilet? Don’t spend days wondering and letting that stress eat you up. Stop by their house or get in touch with a mutual friend to see what’s going on. Get to the facts of the situation. Your stress will go down a lot.
– Not every contrary action indicates a potential unwell period.
Unwell periods happen. It is important to remember that the mentally ill person in your life is still a person. They do still have regular thoughts, feelings, passions, and annoyances. If they get angry about something; it doesn’t necessarily mean they are getting unstable. Ladies- it would be the same thing as your getting upset about something and a guy asking you if you’re PMSy. You don’t have to be chemically imbalanced to angry or sad about something. What you actually want to look for is irrational thinking. If a person’s words or emotions aren’t fitting a rational narrative then one should consider their potential unwellness. “Fuck, I hate my coworker!” (Rational) vs “Fuck, I hate my coworker! I’m going to go wait for him until he gets off work!” (Irrational)
– Not every suicidal or self-destructive thought is cause for emergency.
I understand the point of the medical profession that every suicidal thought or self-destructive action should be treated with the utmost seriousness. But alerting authorities every time? If someone had done that to me every time I had a dark shift I would still be hospitalized. The fact of the matter is; we nutcases deal with self-destructive, suicidal, and self-harm thoughts on a pretty regular basis. If a person is voicing threats and is clearly unstable- by all means get authorities involved. But a person who is just expressing some dark thoughts- well that’s the kind of thing I would be inclined just to listen to. You can prevent a lot by just being present. I understand the need to ensure nothing negative happens; but that help isn’t free. Sinking someone 4,000 in debt from a half day hospital stay where they do absolutely nothing for you isn’t going to help the person at all. And yes, that shit happens regularly.
– We do not expect you to have all of the answers.
A mentally ill person that confides in you may not be looking for answers at all. In many cases, we know that you don’t have any answers. We are just trying to get some of this shit out of minds and try to let someone else in. Your response can either open the way further or close it back up tight. In the event that the person actually is looking for an answer that you don’t know, just say “I don’t know off the top of my head, but we can look for it if you want.” There’s a lot of quality information on the internet but you sometimes have to really dig for it. Or hell, if you’re reading this you pretty much know where to find me. Leave a comment, send me an email. If I know I’ll be glad to share it with you. But you will find, more often than not, the person is just trying to express some of what is going on in their mind.
– Counter hopelessness with knowledge and understanding.
There will eventually come a time when you are faced with your loved one being hopeless about their life and situation. Being mentally ill is not a death sentence or condemnation to a shitty life. Yes, our challenges are complicated. Yes, it’s not fucking pleasant at all quite a lot of the time. Many of us can live productive lives with self-management, medication, and hard work. A person dealing with a massive downswing in their mentality is stuck in the right now. The way to move them past that is to get their focus shifted towards their future. Remind them- “You can be well. You may not have a typical life, but it can be good. We just have to keep working towards it together.”
Subscribe to have blog posts and news delivered straight to your Inbox!