Whenever there’s a disaster — natural or man-made — I see the above quote everywhere… or at least touted by my friends and celebrities on every social media space.
But I think it’s relevant to more than just fires, hurricanes, or shootings. I think it also applies to one of the scariest things in the news, a crisis affecting communities worldwide: mental illness.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
Before you close the tab, assuming that I’m just going to flash the digits of the suicide prevention hotline in big bold headline text and tell you to “CALL, CALL, CALL THIS INSTANT!”, keep reading.
As Shannon Ashley outlined well, there are many reasons why seeking professional help is often far easier said than done.
Ringing up a therapist, checking yourself into a hospital, or spilling your guts out to your spouse isn’t exactly as easy as cleaning the dishes. Nor as neat and tidy.
If you look just a tad harder, you may find the right helper, based on your needs and comfort level.
Maybe they won’t tell you the perfect coping strategy or “cure” you (no such thing), or even fully understand, but they might bring you a bit closer to the light. Make you feel less alone. Give you a small sliver of hope. Help you practice “coming out” to more and more people.
Look for people who’ve also struggled.
Those who’ve been in the darkness are often the most eager to help others navigate through it.
Of course, it might not be so obvious who in your life this is; I, for instance, don’t own a shirt that says “I have anxiety” nor a sweatshirt or romper proclaiming “Do you have depression? Ask me about my own!” And I don’t think any jewelers make a necklace with “I ❤ Zoloft” emblazoned in gold.
But people DO drop hints.
I’ve had classmates mention taking antidepressants. A former boss casually mentioned her therapist. This past World Mental Health Day, I shared an awareness article on Facebook. A guest speaker at a work conference mentioned crippling self doubts.
You don’t have to join them or me in your public declarations of un-wellness, but I bet if you look for it, you can find someone who’ll understand... or will at least take the time to try to.
These hints are often akin to throwing ropes overboard or sweeping a flashlight through the dark; the hint dropper wants someone to spot it and reach out a hand for rescue.
Talk to them.
You don’t have to unload your entire life history, but simply opening up a tad — mentioning that you’re considering therapy, that you’re feeling super anxious, or even simply that you’re having a shitty day — can take some weights off your chest.
Your help-reaching doesn’t need to even be in person.
Connecting with other people online is a great way to ease into it. I’ve seen people vent through anonymous usernames on twitter or use the same site to confide in a celebrity (some will respond!).
A few months ago, I reached out to a facebook friend who mentioned her resolution to seek therapy. We hadn’t spoken in years (and were never close to begin with), so I felt I bit awkward reaching out, but I’m so so so so so glad I did. So was she. Our 5-minute Facebook Messenger conversation helped us both feel less alone. It helped her see that it’s a-ok to talk openly about mental illness; I wasn’t judging her for it.
Other helpers include:
- Authors of self help books: not only can you read those books, but you can email or message them on social media
- Authors of memoirs: ditto the above (shout out to Mara Wilson and Lisa Jakub — both brazenly honest about their mental health struggles… and oh yeah, they happen to have played sisters in Mrs. Doubtfire.)
- People in ~helping~ fields: teachers, social workers, doctors, nurses, career counselors, life coaches — even if you know these people outside their workplaces, they’re likely to be eager listeners. A drive to help others is what led them to those fields, or at least played a role. So even if you know Craig the Social Worker from church or Janis the Career Counselor from book club, try talking to them. I bet they’ll be glad you did.
- Your family and friends: maybe not all, but many will be far less judgmental than you think
- Medium writers who weave their mental health struggles into stories and pieces of advice…
- …like me! I’m going to go ahead and grant myself permission to speak for all of us. Please don’t hesitate to reach out; respond to our articles, send us private messages, or go to our profiles and see if we’ve included an email address or website through which you can contact us. Our writing is an extended call/cry for connection. Don’t be shy.
Look, I know I’m not the most qualified person to issue mental health advice. I’m not a therapist, a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or anything-requiring-a-special-degree-and-training-ist.
I’m just a human who marvels at the beauty of other humans. And I don’t want to keep quiet — or ever stay quiet — about mental wellness.
There’s people around you who feel the same. There’s people who will be thrilled that you opened up to them, no matter what method or to what extent. Find them.
People will care. Do care. They just might not know you’re struggling. Tell them. Tell someone.
Thanks for reading! If you’re so inclined, check out my other Medium stories about my ferocious little monster, anxiety disorder.