For those of you who didn’t know, May is Mental Health Awareness Month! Because the topic of Mental Health is near and dear to me for my own personal reasons, I really wanted to touch on one topic in particular on this post. There are so many things to be said about Mental Health that I could really go on forever about; However, today’s topic will be more focused on loving someone who suffers from a Mental Illness and how to appropriately handle it.
A lot of people don’t realize that loving someone who suffers from some sort of Mental Illness can be very different from what you may experience in your “typical” everyday friendship or relationship. Someone who I love very much has suffered from Mental Illness for quite some time in my life. In my younger years, I truly didn’t understand how to deal with this person. Dealing with them initially left me frustrated and drained until I really took a step back to look at the whole picture. This leads me to a few points I have that may help you to have a little more compassion and patience when interacting with your loved one who is suffering from a Mental Health Disorder.
1. Learn the symptoms, Then don’t take them personally.
Something that I had to realize is not to take any of your loved one’s erratic behavior that can come from the Illness as personal. Some of these disorders have some pretty heavy symptoms. Their mood isn’t because of YOU. If you do some research on what exactly your loved one is diagnosed with, you may find that it totally explains their last lash out or impulsive behavior. In times of stress or trauma, these symptoms usually tend to peak the most. You have to realize that these symptoms are simply not controllable for them. It’s not an on and off switch that they can just manipulate whenever they want. Some days will be better than others. The best thing you can do is try to be understanding to the fact that they’re truly dealing with a lot when you think about it. They don’t WANT to hurt you, they don’t WANT to lash out or isolate themselves from you..but sometimes that’s just the way their illness is manifesting at that time. Let them know you’re there when and if they want to talk.
2. Avoid saying things like “You’ll be fine”, “Just try harder”, and offering unsolicited advice.
You have to remember…a lot of these Disorders are not just some simple mood swings. A lot of this is literally down to the chemical makeup of their brain. You can’t just simply tell someone suffering from a Mental Illness to “Get over it“, “Just Meditate“, etc. It’s not that simple, at all. Not only do you come across extremely insensitive, but you also can come across ignorant. Saying things like this will likely just offend your love one and push them away. You aren’t a Doctor, You aren’t a Therapist..you are someone who they love and only look to for support. So BE THAT SUPPORT. If they confide in you and want to talk, that’s great. However, don’t push your unsolicited advice and opinions on them, just be a compassionate ear for them, that’s it.
3. Come to terms with the idea that this COULD POSSIBLY be their reality for the rest of their life.
Realistically, there is no magic time frame for Mental Illness to just go away. Overcoming the obstacle that is a Mental Illness is a process, and you making them feel like they “should” be better in X amount of time can really just be added unnecessary pressure. You need to love this person through EACH PART of this process, whether it’s months, years, the rest of their life…this may just be what comes with loving this individual. There may be times when they’re doing really great..and then there may be times where they may regress…this is ALL a part of the process and you need to be ready to love them, either way, it goes if this person is important to you.
At the end of the day.. to be real, from my personal experience in my life..Loving someone with a Mental Illness is not always easy. It took me time to find the right ways to interact with my loved one and build patience and understanding for them in my heart. However, I’ve noticed me just being consistent with my presence in their lives has been something they’ve absolutely cherished, appreciated..and NEEDED. You’ve got to remember this is STILL the person you know and love. The illness can change some of their ways, tweak their personality a bit, but they are still YOUR loved one, sick or not. They need you to still see that person inside of them even when they aren’t seeing it clearly anymore. If you know someone suffering from a Mental Health Condition, please love on them, hug them, Check on them..and support them. It can make all the difference in their life.