Chances are, you or someone you know suffers from mental illness. Whether you know it or not, millions of people around the world struggle in silence and live in fear of succumbing to the stigmas surrounding their conditions. In a society slowly shifting toward love, respect and acceptance, we must ask ourselves how we will approach the topic in a way that shows we care. Here are some things everyone can do to help people with mental illnesses feel like they belong, even when they feel isolated and alone.
Treat Mental Health Issues Like Any Other Disability
Invisible illnesses are some of the harder conditions to respond to in a meaningful way. When approaching someone with a disability you can see, it is easy to approach them with care and respect for their needs. You can accommodate things to make their lives easier and immediately know what you’re dealing with. However, when you cannot immediately understand and empathize with what someone is going through, it can be difficult to know how to interact with someone.
As someone with a mental illness of my own, I would argue that most of us simply want to be treated with the dignity and respect shown to people with physical disabilities. I have dealt with plenty of people that disregard my illness as “fake” or “fishing for attention,” and honestly it makes me feel as though my problems don’t matter. It doesn’t have to be that way. Approach people with mental illnesses as if they had a condition you could see with your own eyes. You might not be able to fully understand what someone with a condition like bipolar disorder goes through on a daily basis, but you may find that it’s even harder to live with invisible illnesses than problems we can see.
Approach With Caution
Everyone has a story. Every person on this earth has had experiences that have shaped them and made them into the person they are today. It’s very tempting to want to explore a person’s problems and get to the root of their issues. As much as we all want to be armchair psychologists, sometimes it’s best to leave the personal stuff out of the conversation.
Some people have memories they wish to keep out of their mind. Others can be triggered by certain events or words. You never really know how your words can make an impact on someone. With that in mind, just be sure to pay attention to the person you’re getting to know. Ask them about what things are on and off-limits. Having the decency to take initiative and demonstrate that you’re willing to explore issues that are acceptable for both parties involved already puts you above a lot of people when it comes to casual conversation.
Show You Care
Honestly, the most important thing you can do when talking to someone with a mental illness is to simply show that you care. Sometimes all a person wants is to be told that they are worth it and that someone is thinking about them. Make an extra effort to include people and show that they matter in your life. Maybe send a quick text to your friends asking them how they’re doing, or invite them to something you were planning on going to alone. Showing a person with a mental disability that you care about them and want them to succeed can be a light in a world of darkness.
It can be hard to navigate relationships with people that have mental disabilities. There is no secret formula or script to follow to appropriately handle every single conversation. What I do know is that being sincere and respectful of someone’s situation is the easiest way to make someone’s day and show them that they are worth it. It’s easy to forget how many people deal with things we cannot see with our own eyes. Often we struggle to get out of the constant cycle of work and adult responsibilities. But if we can break out of that cycle, even for just a moment to acknowledge and show the struggling people in our lives that they matter, it can make a world of a difference.