If you don’t know what it’s like to have a mental illness, but have a loved one who does, sometimes it can be hard to know what to say. Even with the best intentions, you might find yourself avoiding the subject all together or giving unsolicited advice that doesn’t end up being that helpful.

Knowing what to ask in these moments — moments you want to show a loved one you care but don’t know how — can be key.

So, we asked our Mighty readers who live with mental illnesses what questions they wished others would ask them.

Here’s what they had to say. Hopefully some of these can help you start an important conversation with someone with a mental illness:

1. “Sometimes I wish people would just ask me normal things. To get coffee, or what I thought about last night’s show. My mental illness has pushed so many people away, they forget I’m a person just like everyone else underneath it all.” — Sarah Dawn Benich

A quote from Sarah Dawn Benich that says, "Sometimes I wish people would just ask me normal things. To get coffee, or what I thought about last night's show."

2. “I wish people would keep inviting me places. I may say, ‘No’ most of the time, but one day I may say, ‘Yes.’ Don’t give up on me!” — Alex McFarlane

3. “I wish they would ask to spend time with me.” — Christine Heckler

4. “When my mental illnesses come up in conversation, I wish people would ask, ‘What do you need from me?’ I don’t need anything tangible from them. I just need someone to listen and not judge.” — Chelsea Noelani Gober

5. “Ask, ‘Will you help me understand what it’s like living with your condition?'” — Christina Chalgren

A quote from Christina Chalgren that says, "Will you help me understand what it's like living with your condition?"

6. “Ask me how I truly feel. Instead of the generic ‘How are you?’ say ‘I’ve noticed you’re not yourself and I want to know how you’re really feeling.’ Then listen to what I say after you ask without judgment.” — Marlena Davis

7. “I wish others would ask me about my diagnosis and how it affects me instead of making assumptions.” — Alison Taylor 

8. “Honestly, I wish people would treat me like anyone else. I wish they would ask the same questions.” — Krystal Phillips 

9. “How are you really doing?” — Amber Yats

A quote from Amber Yats that says, "How are you really doing?"

10. “How has living with this condition shaped who you are today?” — Lindsay Ballard

11. “‘Do you need to talk?’ Sometimes just venting or talking about how/what I’m feeling can make it a little better.” — Lindsey Hemphill 

12. “Sometimes I need a genuine check in on how I’m doing; then don’t let me off the hook when I answer, ‘I’m fine.'” — Danielle Rupp

A quote from Danielle Rupp that says, "Sometimes I need a genuine check in on how I'm doing; then don't let me off the hook when I answer, 'I'm fine.'"

 

13. “I wish people would ask my son [who has a mental illness] how successful he feels today. Something to make him think about what he achieves every day. Just normal everyday conversations will do. No need to be fancy or use a psych degree. Talking is simply enough.” — RooDee Clayden

14. “I just want people to ask me how I am, how I’m feeling and if I’d like some company. I know I’m withdrawn, and I may not even say yes to plans, but it would be nice to know people care and still want to see me.” — Hayley Lyvers

15. “‘How can I help you?’ Simple, but so important.” — Brandi Argo Barnes

A quote from Brandi Argo Barnes that says, "'How can I help you?' Simple, but so important."

16. “Ask me what it’s like and what I need before assuming you know and trying to help by doing things that don’t actually help.” — Katie DeMore

17. “I wish that on the rare occasions I decide to open up, people would ask questions about how it feels or what it’s like rather than changing the topic straight away because they’re uncomfortable. It makes me feel like a freak. Some acceptance and acknowledgement would be nice. You don’t have to understand — I just want you to listen.” — Chantelle Corbell

18. “‘I noticed you’ve been distant. Want to [have dinner, go for a walk, help me with (whatever task), have a netflix date, etc]?'” — Rachel Jackson

A quote from Rachel Jackson that says, "'I noticed you've been distant. Want to [have dinner, go for a walk, help me with (whatever task), have a netflix date, etc]?'"

19. “Please ask me about normal things in normal ways. If you think I am slipping into serious depression, please don’t take it as license to invade my privacy with questions regarding medication, doctors or treatments. I’m not a child to be monitored. I am an adult who fully understands I have a chronic, yet manageable condition.” — Jennifer Wydra 

20. “‘What can I do to be there for you, and help you feel as supported as I can?'” — Jess Cochran

21. “I really wish people would come out and ask me if my depression/anxiety is acting up rather than making assumptions. I won’t be offended if you ask me directly, I promise.” — Sarah Cecilia Flanigan

A quote from Sarah Cecilia Flanigan that says, "I really wish people would come out and ask me if my depression/anxiety is acting up rather than making assumptions. I won't be offended if you ask me directly, I promise."

22. “‘How can I support you?’ Sometimes people think they know what will help, but it actually makes things worse. Sometimes I need someone to listen to me. Sometimes I need a distraction. Sometimes I need to be alone. Sometimes I need a hug — there’s no way to know what I need, and asking shows you truly care and want to help in the way that will work.” — Alyse Ruriani

23. “‘How can I be a better advocate and friend for those struggling with mental illness? How can I make a difference?'” — Harmony Rose Rogers

24. “‘What’s it like?’ There needs to be more understanding about what goes on in our lives and our families’ lives. Ignorance comes from lack of understanding.” — Lisa Blanton

A quote from Lisa Blanton that says, "What's it like?"

 *Answers have been edited and shortened for brevity

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There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding and sometimes a lot of fear surrounding psychiatric hospitals. But hospitals aren’t new to me — I’ve been a psych patient for over 10 years.

To clear up some misconceptions — and give some advice to anyone who may have a hospital stay in their future — here are five things I want people to know about psychiatric hospitals.

1. Your first time can be scary. 

The first time I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, I was 15 and had just attempted suicide. I was terrified. Not only was I in a strange place, but I was newly diagnosed with a mental illness. Coming to terms with a diagnosis while also being in a totally unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people is tough. Not only that, psychiatric hospitals can be so full of rules and regulations you might end up feeling like a naughty child. But try to remember: this is a safe place with people who are trying to care for you. I’ve personally found most of the nurses and doctors to be extremely kind.

2. It’s not like the hospitals you see on TV or in scary movies.

Straight jackets. I keep looking, but I’ve never seen them. I’ve also never seen a padded room. There are no lobotomies taking place. No constant screaming. I’ve never seen a doctor or nurse be cruel to a patient. I did see someone being restrained once, and it wasn’t particularly forceful — it was more for their own safety. You know, I’ve actually found psychiatric hospitals to be quite peaceful and relaxing.

3. The “crazy” people are actually just people.

I hate the term “crazy” to describe people with a mental illness and I hate it to describe people who are in a psychiatric hospital. People in psychiatric hospitals are people with mental illnesses — people who could be suicidal, self-harming, depressed, manic and psychotic. But these are sometimes symptoms of mental illness, and don’t make a person crazy. So don’t worry about whether or not being in a psych hospital makes you a “crazy” person. It doesn’t. It makes you a person with a serious illness who’s making a step towards recovery.

4. You should make the most of it.

You can gain a lot from being hospitalized. Go to group therapy and individual therapy if the hospital offers it. If you need medication, figure out a combination that works for you and then take it. Participate in art therapy and outside time. Talk with the other patients — you may find you can relate to more people than you think. Of course, sometimes you’ll just want to nap and be alone, and that’s fine. I did a lot of that. But by participating in what the hospital has to offer, you can develop a lot of skills that can help once you’re discharged. Participate, reach out and make the most of your time there.

5. You should never be ashamed.

You should never be ashamed about spending time in a psychiatric hospital or seeking treatment for your mental illness. You have a real illness. An illness that does not discriminate, does not pick and choose. You deserve to receive appropriate treatment, and you deserve it without discrimination and without anyone making you feel ashamed.


If you or your loved one is affected by mental illness, The Mighty and Bring Change 2 Mind want to hear your response to this question: What’s one thing you want someone with a mental illness who’s going through a hard time to know? Send us your video response, and it might be used in a video for The Mighty! Here’s a summary of our video on tips for filming your response:

  • When using a cellphone, hold it horizontally with two hands. Don’t hold it vertically or with one hand. Hand Position
  • If using a video camera, be sure it is on a tripod or held by another person with both hands.
  • Try to answer the question in 5 – 15 seconds.
  • Use plenty of natural light. If inside, have your face towards the window. You don’t want the sun or a window behind you — it creates a silhouette and we won’t be able to see you. StandingPosition

 

  • Record in a quiet place.
  • Speak clearly & concisely. Be sure your hand is not over the microphone. Play through the video before submitting to make sure you can hear yourself.

Please submit your video to [email protected] by November 30th​.  We want video messages from loved ones of people with mental illness and people with mental illness sending words of encouragement to someone with a mental illness who’s going through a hard time. Please note: Every clip cannot be included in what is published. However, every response will be used internally, to help make our approach to mental health coverage as informed & supportive as it can be.


I recently survived a suicidal episode of depression. It wasn’t my first and it won’t be my last, but this time I became aware of something troubling about survival.

It’s very anti-climactic.

This is awful because surviving is a big deal. For me, it’s one of the greatest accomplishments of my life.

Yet as I took in the relief, I noticed I was taking it in alone.

When you survive cancer, war or a car crash it seems like you’re showered with love, relief and compassion. Instead, my husband and my mother were thankful I was better, my good friend changed the subject and my psychiatrist noted it in my chart.

At this point in my depression history I’m pretty self-aware, so it didn’t take me long to figure out why I was having some rebound depression. It also didn’t take me long to get angry about the lack of response. Damn it, this is one of the hardest things I’ve ever accomplished in my life, and all I hear are crickets? But drawing attention to my feat of bravery sounds bizarre. Who goes around telling everyone they just succeeded in not killing themselves?

No one, because we’re shamed into believing we should be discreet.

I think this is a piece of the puzzle we need to address. I’m sure I’m not the only suicide survivor who has had this experience. I also have no doubt it’s dangerous. When you reach this stage of recovery, not only are you still feeling tender from the depression you’ve just endured, you’re also perhaps well-equipped to actually kill yourself. I had a plan, the necessary tools, a letter and only a few tasks on the to-do list before I was ready for action — this is frightening.

It makes me wonder how many suicides happened when the victim thought they had recovered. How many people are dead by their own hand because no one bothered to commend their bravery or follow up? Why do we have to pretend it’s nothing extraordinary? How can we fix this?

We start by talking about suicide openly and candidly — like I am doing right now. We should not change the subject when someone talks about wanting to take his or her own life, or having wanted to take his or her own life. If we have a loved one we know is struggling with or surviving the urge to die, I believe we need to make a big deal about it — this is life or death. We need to get over our own discomfort or we will continue to lose loved ones to something that’s preventable. Shame and stigma help make suicide possible, and our conversations and acknowledgment can change that.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

 


Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. It’s a magic, liminal space between dark and light, where we can explore and play with meaning and identity — we can be witches or fairies, Jedis or Dr. Whos, police officers or surgeons. Also, its central rite is the Great American Candy Swap, and at our house, the kids pay a pretty hefty Almond Joy tax.

As my husband and I were sorting through our assortment of clown wigs, witch hats, devil’s horns and angel wings, I told him, “I think this year I’ll shave my head, put on one of those horrible tie-in-the-back hospital gowns, stick a fake IV in my arm and go as a cancer patient.”

Ed stared at me. “You’re kidding, I hope,” he said.

“Better yet, let’s go as the Cancerous Family!” I continued. “We can put skull caps on the kids and make them look just like poster children for St. Judes. Everyone will think it’s hilarious!”

“Oh, I get it,” he said. “You’re talking about that awful ‘Modern Family’ Halloween asylum of horror.”

My husband knows me well. I’ve experienced two difficult bouts of depression in my life. Now, one of our children has bipolar disorder. Our son has been hospitalized three times, and he has been sent to juvenile detention because of his illness. So we weren’t laughing when ABC ignored the pleas of the nation’s largest mental health advocacy organizations and re-aired the ‘Modern Family’ Awesomeland episode, where one of the main characters turns her house into a “scary” insane asylum.

Most of us would agree making fun of cancer patients isn’t funny. Anyone who has watched a loved one struggle with cancer knows how courageous cancer patients are and how difficult this illness is. My father’s three-year battle with acute myelogenous leukemia involved experimental drugs that aged him 30 years in the space of months. He died when he was just 50, leaving my mother to raise my four younger brothers on her own.

But my mother wasn’t completely on her own. She had tremendous community support  — cards, casseroles, rides to soccer practice for the boys while she stayed with my dad in the hospital, mentors for the boys after he died. My dad’s insurance covered his pricey medical bills. The community still remembers my father fondly, and Mom’s married friends still include her in their social activities.

While mental illness is no less tragic than cancer, the community support just isn’t there. Instead, individuals and families feel that they have to hide their struggles, which are every bit as heroic as those endured by cancer patients. My father was praised when he took life-prolonging medication with toxic side effects; in contrast, people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder who take life-saving medications with difficult side effects are told they should just “snap out of it” and manage their condition without medication. I’ve experienced this sad truth as a parent of a teenager who has bipolar disorder. Mental illness is just not something we are supposed to talk about.

Why do we treat mental illness so differently? The science is increasingly clear: mental illness is physical illness. And yet when I tried to explain to ABC’s “Modern Family” last year why their tasteless Halloween show was so offensive to me and my son, many comments complained about my oversensitivity or dismissed my concerns as “crazy” politically correct extremism.

Let me break it down for you. To anyone dressed like a “mental patient” this year, here are five reasons why making fun of people with mental illness at Halloween is not only tacky and politically incorrect, it’s downright cruel:

1. Mental illness is not a choice.

You have nearly unlimited choices when it comes to Halloween costumes. But people who suffer from mental illness do not have a choice about whether they are ill or not.

2. You wouldn’t make fun of people with other illnesses.

Would you think it was funny to dress up as someone with cancer? How about someone in a wheelchair? Or a blind person? Most of us understand these things aren’t funny — they’re offensive, and they mock the very real struggles of individuals who are trying to live their best possible lives with very real obstacles. But because mental illness is an “invisible” disability, we discriminate against people who suffer from it, as is evidenced by the “hilarious” television shows we watch and the costumes we wear at Halloween.

3. The insane asylums of the past actually were sometimes pretty scary—but the new ones, prisons, in my opinion are even scarier.

Why would you want to remind people how bad mental hospitals were? And why aren’t you demanding that we stop sending people to jail because of their brain diseases? It’s time we get the community mental health centers we were promised — and provide long-term therapeutic options for patients with more serious illness who are currently warehoused in prisons or nursing homes.

4. People with mental illness are not actually scary.

Halloween-shop mental patient costumes, with their straitjackets and gore, reinforce the same false message the media portrays to us by talking about mental illness only within the context of events like mass shootings. In fact, when treated, people with mental illness are no more likely to be violent than anyone else, though they are more likely to be the victims of violence.

5. People with mental illness are not “those people.” They are “us.”

This year, I’m encouraging my friends to use Halloween to advocate for mental illness in positive ways. On October 31, take a picture of yourself looking fabulous, and tweet it with the hashtag #mentalpatient. Let’s show the world what a real mental patient looks like. They look like you and me.

But if you decide to dress up as a “Modern Family” version of a mental patient for Halloween this year, please don’t come trick-or-treating to my house. You scare me.

This post originally appeared on The Anarchist Soccer Mom.


Sports and mental health advocacy are coming together with a new line of Under Armour products launched by NFL wide-receiver Brandon Marshall’s nonprofit, Project375.

I’m in tears writing this because I’m so excited to announce we are finally launching our product line that one day will bring millions of dollars to the mental health community,” Marshall wrote in a Facebook status Thursday morning.

According to Project375’s website, 100 percent of the profits will be used to to reduce mental health stigma, including funding an online mental health community “MyCounterpane,” and providing money for preventative services in schools and other intervention programs.

Under Armour and Project 375 graphic t-shirts
Under Armour and Project 375 graphic t-shirts

Marshall became passionate about mental health advocacy after a three-month stay at McClean Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Massachusetts, where he was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. Despite thriving professionally, the football star said had been experiencing emotional instability that threatened to ruin his personal life and career.

“The longer it goes untreated, the worse it gets. And for me, my life was spiraling out of control,” he says in the video below. “That’s why it’s so important for us to talk about it. I didn’t know what was going on.”

Under Armour and Project 375 tech shirt
Under Armour and Project 375 tech shirt

From ex-NFL players speaking out about depression, to professional tennis player Mardy Fish’s moving essay about anxiety, Marshalls is another voice in a growing conversation telling athletes it’s OK to talk about mental health issues.

One of the bravest things I’ve done is talk about my borderline personality disorder,” he said in a PSA with BringChange2Mind. “It’s time for men to talk about mental health.”

You can get the Under Armour gear here by making a donation of $35 for a graphic t-shirt or $55 for a long-sleeve tech shirt. For a $100 donation you can get a pair of Project 375 ping pong paddles, and if you’re feeling really generous ($13,750 generous), Brandon Marshall will come speak at your school.

To learn more about Project375, visit its website. Click here to donate to Growing Project 375.

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