A Guide To… Helping Someone With Mental Illness

Helping anyone is a hard yet noble thing. Mental health is especially tough because it’s not like you can find a plaster to stick on a wound or pop a couple of paracetamol. There’s a fine line between saying what you think are the right things and something that may send the person spiralling. It’s bloody difficult to try and help, but as long as the support is there, that’s the main thing. These are just a few things that I’ve found help…
1. Space
I need space to try and get as mentally well as I can, but too much space can have the opposite effect. Asking the person if they are okay, just a little text to make sure they aren’t lonely is sometimes just enough to allow them time to recover. It’s really difficult because you want to support them as much as possible, but it can feel like smothering – especially when all they really need is some sort of recuperation period, much like you would after major surgery. So, just let them know you’re there as and when you need them. 
2. Attention
This is a tricky topic with mental health in general, as some maintain the view that it is ‘attention-seeking’. It bloody well isn’t, I’ll tell you that now. Saying that, a cry for help shouldn’t be ignored. If you care for this person, attending to their needs is obviously going to be a priority. Just being there for a chat, making sure they are getting out of bed every so often, making them a lovely cup of tea… It’s not about suffocating them and making a drama about what they are going through – trust me their mind is doing that enough for them – it’s about making sure they know they have that support and that you care.
3. Right Questions
What are the right things to say to someone in this situation? I guess I’ll do another post on the ‘wrong’ things to say, but asking the right questions can be the most helpful thing. Allow the person to lead any kind of conversation, because it’s their demons, not yours. Little things, like ‘how are you feeling today?’ or ‘is there any that I can do to help?’ It’s not super difficult, but the right questions can open conversation and allow them to express how they feel. 
4. Research
Learning about someone’s illness is the greatest tool you can do by yourself. If your friend were to develop a different (potentially life-threatening) illness, you’d want to know as much as you can about it – the treatments, symptoms, other people’s stories – to ensure that you’re doing the right thing. It’s exactly the same with the brain. Learning about what they are dealing with provides you with a better standing when they are ill, you’ll be able to sympathise in a different way to that if you were clueless about the subject – liken it to preparing for an exam at school, the more you revise, the better you’ll do. Now, I’m not saying go get a PhD in mental health, but just knowing the basics is excellent, as you can spot when they may be going through a rougher patch (mentally ill people have a great knack for pretending everything’s okay, when it’s far from it). So, get clued up and you’ll be in a much greater position than before, and they will be so thankful for your extra help. 
5. Avoiding Triggers
Pretty obvious. If the person you care about can’t deal with social outings, for instance, then don’t force it upon them. If they went through a terrible time recently, mentioning about it may not be the best solution. Almost think of it as one of those terribly extravagant situations in which you don’t mention inflammatory things, such as politics, religion or *their trigger*. If they mention their trigger, great, but don’t bring it up otherwise.
6. Love
You love this person, otherwise you wouldn’t be going to the trouble of reading this post. Be it your spouse, friend, family relation, whatever, you care about them deeply. Let them know that. That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day. They are going through an absolutely awful time, but your love is going to get them through it, as cliché as it sounds. 
I hope this post doesn’t come across too negatively, and this may not be the same for everyone – mental health differs from person to person. Again, if you need help and support, you can email me (megrrees@gmail.com) or tweet me @megrrees.
Take care,
Megan xxxx

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