World Mental Health Day: Let’s Listen

On World Mental Health Day, I think it’s really important that we start to talk about our mental health and what we can do to support ourselves and others. Most mental health campaigns have really emphasised that we, as a society, need to talk more about our struggles and be more open with one another when we need help. This is a really laudable aim in our attempt to overcome the stigma attached with mental health issues, but I think there is another aspect missing from all the campaigns to get people talking.

It’s about teaching people to listen, and to give people the skills and confidence so they can be there for their friends and family. As I am quite open about my depression with most people, I often hear stories back from people who have struggled about how they felt they couldn’t talk to anyone about it for fear of being judged or being told to get over it. I experienced that exact feeling myself as well. There is also the other side of this, that people feel that they don’t know what to say, or they’ll just say the wrong thing, and it’s perfectly okay to feel that way too.

But here is what you can do to help out your friend or family member with depression…

Stick Around…

When I was severely depressed, I wouldn’t answer my phone, rarely got out of bed and could barely have a conversation with anyone. Anyone who was concerned was rebuffed or ignored, and I’m sure I hurt some feelings by doing this. When things started to improve a tiny bit, I was able to explain some of what was going on in my head to those people, but it still took a while. Even if your friend or family member won’t talk to you about what’s going on, tell them you’ll be there when they are ready and want to talk.

Tell Them You Are There…

The most reassuring part of when I started to recover from depression and started to share my story was the amount of people who said to me that they are there for me and are only ever a tweet, phone-call, email or text message away. I didn’t end up taking many of them up on their kind offer of a shoulder to cry on, but the knowledge that so many people cared about me got past all the lies and nastiness my depression was screaming at me everyday.

So tell them that you are there for them, whether they need a conversation or some much-needed distraction, and you are only ever a phone-call away.

Check-In…

Sending a occasional text message to ask ‘how are you doing today’ is a brilliant way of reminding someone that you are there and care for them. It tells them that they are not as isolated and unloved as their depression wants them to think they are. Maybe they mightn’t answer but eventually the message will get through.

Listen…

When they eventually want to talk, the main thing to do is listen. They may say some hurtful things or stuff which may upset and shock you, but the main thing is to be there for them when they start to open up to you. Many people will want to start solutions and suggestions to fix the various problems being discussed, but please try to restrain this part of you as long as possible. It is quite likely that the person has already tried that or at least considered it, and may just be at the stage where they just need to vent and rage about what is going on in their lives.

Of course, if there is a genuine solution that you feel has been missed, do suggest it, but the main thing to avoid is the imperative feeling of ‘well, if you just did this, that and this, then your life will be fixed and everything will be fine’. Depression is more than a series of unfortunate events, it is the total loss of your energy, self-worth, self-confidence and happiness. Just fixing the events surrounding the depression will not fix the depression.

Reassure…

At this point of even when a person with depression wants to talk, they often feel like they will be judged or dismissed. Now is the time to reassure them that you love them and care for them, and want them to feel better. Remind them that you will be there for them during their journey to recovery, however long it takes.

One of the nicest things said to me at this point was by my dad who went on a long rambling speech about all my positive qualities and achievements. This; coming from my dad, a man of few words; meant the world to me. At the time, not much of it went through the fog but it empowered all the positive thoughts that I was building on in my recovery.

Encourage…

If you’re in the fortunate position of having someone trust you enough to talk about their depression with you, you are also in the position where you can encourage them to seek further support. This message needs to be couched in a language which says that ‘I want to help you and I appreciate that you are talking to me but it might also be useful to talk to someone like a counsellor or therapist to give you the skills to be able to overcome this’. Mention it once or twice but if they are reluctant, don’t keep pushing the topic.

On a side note, therapy and counselling can be quite expensive but there are some low-cost options available such as MyMind and InsightMatters for students, people with low incomes and unemployed people.

Don’t Dismiss…

The most annoying part of all this is when you open up about something and someone says something dismissive, even unintentionally. Recently I went to my doctor and he asked how I was emotionally coping with my diabetes. I commented that sometimes I feel that my body is abandoning me after doing so well together for so many years. He replied to tell me that he wouldn’t describe it like that and I shouldn’t feel that way. Well, my illness, my feelings, my way…

This brings me to my final point, don’t dismiss someone when they are talking about their feelings, no matter how irrational those feeling are. It’s very easy to say to someone that they shouldn’t feel a certain way. I still catch myself saying it all the time. The truth is, regardless of whether they should or shouldn’t feel that way, they do feel those emotions. Telling them they shouldn’t feel like that is of no use to them in a practical sense, and may make them feel shame and guilt for getting upset about something unimportant.

Be there…

The most important part to take away from all of this is to be there with the person who has depression. Listen to them, be there with them and don’t be afraid of saying the wrong thing. Even if you accidentally say something dismissive or critical about their recovery process, the main thing is that you are there for them and want the best for them.

The people who were there, even through the worst time and even if they didn’t necessarily say all the right things, are the people that I owe the biggest part of my recovery to.

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One thought on “World Mental Health Day: Let’s Listen

  1. Pingback: 2013 in review « Aurora La Petite

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