By Jennifer Seigworth
“It’s my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you hurting, and for the millionth time in my life I wish for measles or smallpox or some other easily understood disease just to make it easier on me and also on them.” ~ Jennifer Niven, Author
This quote sums up the way most people feel when they suffer from any type of mental illness. It can be every bit as debilitating as a broken body, but others cannot see the broken parts. If a person is wearing a cast or leaning on crutches, it is hard to forget that they have limitations. However, if someone has a mental health condition, others may need reminded. At times, it is expected that one “grin and bear it.”
Of course conditions vary, just as they do with any physical ailment. There may be people we interact with every day who have mental health diagnoses. They may work in a demanding career, and lead a full life outside of work as well. They may have few limitations presented by their illness thanks to medication and routine medical care. However, just as there are compound fractures, there are compound mental health illnesses that can limit or incapacitate people; causing the need to change one’s life in order to function. Medication and therapy help immensely, but do not always take away the need for extra care and alterations in life.
Family and close friends to a person with a mental illness may struggle as well. Even though the family or friends spend much time with them, it is difficult to get used to seeing the person as possibly limited or ill, because they do not look any different. It may cause some animosity and impatience with the mentally ill because it can be seen as “attention seeking” or “laziness.” This is especially common if the person has always suffered from the mental illness but it has increased in severity or it was recently diagnosed. Behavior that has been written off as typical of one’s personality may only be the tip of the iceberg. That is why we must do our best to show compassion to others, as we do not know their inner struggles.
Once a person has accepted that someone they care about is suffering from a mental illness, they may alter their own life in some way to accommodate or find a way to understand the limitations that loved one may have. Educating yourself is the first step. It allows the opportunity to face the behavior of your loved one in a way that does not disregard their illness, while also making sure not to cause harm to yourself.
There are helpful resources for those whose loved ones have been diagnosed with a mental health illness. There are support groups as well as one-on-one support specialists to help one adapt to changes and challenges brought on by the presence of the illness. As the range of mental health challenges varies, so does the need for support for those who are close to them.
Practice self-care to make sure you do not put your own mental and emotional well-being in danger. You must take care of yourself in order to care for others. You need your oxygen mask on before attempting to help others with theirs.
Remind yourself to avoid taking any of the loved one’s behaviors or struggles personally. If the loved one shares their struggles with you, try to keep an open mind, as in any relationship. It could be a challenge that you could face together, but it may have to be something that person must deal with on their own. Do not try to fix them or fix their situation. Just accept them and the challenge for what it is. There may be changes you need to make in order to be supportive, but consider your own well-being at the same time.