5 Things to Do When You're Worried About a Friend's Mental Health

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I often run student workshops on a range of issues related to mental health and emotional wellbeing.  Regardless of the precise topic, the most common question students ask me is: “What should I do if I’m worried a friend has a mental health issue?”

Perhaps it’s something you’re wondering about, or you’d like to be able to share ideas with your students, friends or your own child.  I’ve shared my ideas below, but I’d love to hear yours, too.

1. Listen.

The most important thing you can do for your friend is to make time for them and listen to them. They need to feel listened to, so get rid of all distractions. Giving them the space and time to talk is a really important first step — in the beginning, but also right through (and beyond) the recovery journey.

2. Don’t judge.

More than almost anything, young people with mental health and emotional well-being issues such as depression, eating disorders and self-harm tell me that they fear the judgement of others. They worry people will overreact, thinking they’re crazy or assuming they want to kill themselves. Or sometimes, they worry people will be dismissive and think they’re just attention-seeking. A good friend listens without judgement and sees their friend as a friend — not a unhelpful label like “anorexic or “self-harmer.”

3. Ask how you can help.

When someone shares their struggles and concerns with you, the most helpful thing you can ask is how you can help. There’s no need to dissect the ins and outs of why your friend feels this way — that is the work of a therapist. But as their friend, you can talk to them about what practical measures you can put in place to support them through each day. Think about difficulties and barriers which are making life harder for them. For example, if they’re struggling with anxiety, maybe arriving at school when its really busy makes them feel panicky and out of control. To relieve this, maybe you could walk in with them each day to offer moral support. Exactly how you can help will vary from person to person, so the best thing to do is to have a discussion with your friend to bounce some ideas about. You should also try to revisit the topic every now and then.

4. Seek support — for your friend and yourself. 

Depending on the nature of your friend’s concerns, it’s likely you’ll need to encourage them to seek further support. Telling a trusted adult at home or school will enable you to access further support – for both of you. Your friend might be reluctant to share their concerns with anyone else, but if you’re worried it’s important that you don’t go it alone. Also, you may end up developing well-being issues yourself if you take on your friend’s concerns without any additional help. You can help your friend to feel reassured and more in control of the situation by discussing:

  • WHAT information needs to be passed on – you only need to share enough to access support, not everything they’ve told you.
  • WHO needs to know – think carefully about who you trust to respond appropriately and support you both.
  • HOW you’re going to tell them – does your friend want to do it themselevs, do they want you to do it for them, should you to it together or should you write a letter or email?

Of course, we should always try to seek our friend’s consent before alerting someone to their issues. However, there are some circumstances in which you should tell a trusted adult right away to keep your friend safe, and to access support as quickly as possible.  These circumstances include:

  • Self-harm including alcohol or drug misuse
  • Suicidal feelings
  • Difficulties concerning food including bingeing, starving, vomiting or laxative abuse
  • Abuse at home (physical, sexual or emotional)
  • Abuse from a boyfriend or girlfriend (physical, sexual or emotional)
  • Bullying of any type

5. Stick by them.

Finally, stick by your friend through thick and thin. It can be hard being friends with someone who’s facing these kinds of difficulties; you may find your friend pushes you away, stops coming out with you, starts acting differently or ignores you completely. But rest assured, your support will mean a huge amount to them (even if they don’t show it) and will help them through their recovery. Even just the occasional text message can mean a huge amount to someone who’s struggling to get through each day.

Good luck – your friend is lucky to have you.

Follow this journey on In Our Hands.

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22 Messages for People Who Think They 'Don't Deserve' Therapy

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Sometimes the first step is the hardest. A step towards acceptance. A step towards treatment. A step towards recovery. When you live with a mental illness, often times that step involves therapy.

But therapy can be a scary concept, especially if the same voice in your head that’s fueling your mental illness is saying you don’t deserve it. There’s always someone worse. It would be a waste of time. Therapy makes you weak. 

But who cares if there’s “always someone worse”? Therapy is not a waste of time, and it certainly doesn’t make you weak. If you think you might need therapy but are hesitant to take the first step, here are some messages from our readers that might change your mind.

If you don’t think you deserve therapy, here’s what our community wants you to know:

1.You may not think you deserve therapy, but you do deserve to be happy. Therapy could be a key component in helping you get there.” — Syrena Clark

You may not think you deserve therapy, but you do deserve to be happy. Therapy could be a key component in helping you get there.”

2. “Not every therapist will be a good fit for you. If it isn’t working with one, don’t give up! I went through several psychologists/psychiatrists before I found the right one for me. When I found the right doctor, he saved my life.” — Angela Wetuski

3. “Would you deserve chemotherapy? Would you deserve insulin? If you have a child who needed therapy would you think he or she deserved it?” — Mary Mazzarella

4. “As someone who has struggled with depression my entire life, I totally understand feeling like you don’t deserve therapy. I understand self-loathing. I’m comfortable in my misery. Treatment means stepping into something unknown, and that’s scary! When I feel like this, I image myself as the child I once was. I want to protect her and give her whatever she needs to become well again. Even if I feel that I don’t deserve the opportunity to get better, she does.” — Sarah Carson

5. “The voice of depression (or whatever mental illness you have) does not tell the truth. It feeds you lies and tears you down. You are fighting a battle, and you deserve to have an army on your side.” — Nicole Campbell

You are fighting a battle, and you deserve to have an army on your side.

6. “Can you imagine a world where everyone who needed help was deemed undeserving of it? People’s minds can be sick in the same way that people’s bodies can be sick, and if you wouldn’t deny yourself a visit to the doctor to treat a broken bone, why would you deny yourself the opportunity to treat other non-physical illnesses?” — Emily Waryck

7. “A therapist once said to me, ‘If you play the comparison game, you will lose every time. Someone out there will always have it worse, but someone will always have it better, too.’ Focus on what you need as an individual, not where you stand in comparison to another.” — Delaina Conour

8. “No matter how manageable you may think it is or how much you don’t want to ‘put someone out,’ if you feel like you need help, seek it.” — Patrick Dovah Bowden

9. “Put your own oxygen mask on first before helping anyone else. You can’t pour from an empty cup — same theory.” — Jen Hall

You can't pour from an empty cup.

10. “Who doesn’t deserve someone who you can talk to without having to worry about anything coming back to haunt you?” — Kim Compton-Carter

11. “You deserve to feel better, to feel your ‘normal’ again. Whatever that is for you. Therapy isn’t easy, and it will make you want to run sometimes. But you are brave and deserving just like everyone else. Never forget that.” — Donna Guzzo

12. “There are times we not only deserve, but need, outside support. Go treat yourself.” — Lucinda Walker

13. “The darkness can be consuming, but therapy can help you find your way to the light again. It’s time to meet yourself where you’re at and allow yourself to work from there.” — Miranda Tymoschuk

The darkness can be consuming, but therapy can help you find your way to the light again.

14. “Grant yourself some grace.” — Katy McKnight

15. “The internal voice telling you that you’re not deserving of therapy, or to feel better or [that you] have good things in your life, is literally a symptom of the illness and needs to be thought of and treated as such.” — Andrea Michael

16. “Everyone needs a little help sometimes. You don’t need to fight this battle alone. You deserve someone who will listen and help you get through this. Don’t sell yourself short.” — Ashley Dakota Strand

17. “Telling yourself you don’t deserve therapy is like telling a drowning person they don’t deserve a rope.” — Vickie Vance Meredith

THERAPY#3 copy

18. “There will always be people who seem to be in more pain than you, but your pain is just as valid as your need to breathe air.” — Claire Nieuwoudt

19. “You don’t even have to have a mental illness to ‘deserve therapy.’ Therapy is a fantastic tool that can and should be utilized by anyone who may be struggling with their mental health or anyone who may just need to talk to someone.” — Allison DeLuca

20. “Do it. It sucks holding it all in.” — Angie Leanne Ryan

21. “Therapy isn’t about deserving. It’s about making a choice to work hard and stay well.” — Casey Coats

22.You deserve the world. That includes therapy.” — Steph Tremblay

You deserve the world. That includes therapy.

*Answers have been edited and shortened. 

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When the Cause of My Symptoms Was Literally ‘All in My Head'

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I’ve got my fair share of labels and I am often very honest and open about them and what they do to me. But I haven’t opened up about one of my diagnoses. Why? Like most people with a somatoform disorder, I have been too embarrassed, even ashamed to admit it.

When I was 17 years old, I suddenly developed a limp in my right leg. It felt like the muscles were tightening. The tightness progressed up one side of my body and into my arm. Doctors were baffled. My symptoms looked like that of dystonia, but something about it wasn’t quite right even then. I was given medication and sent away, and told it would either be with me for life or possibly go into remission some day.

Two years later, the twisting (which came and went) got so bad that I relied on crutches to get about. Oddly, I could still ride my bike. That same year, I suddenly began suffering from seizures. I was quickly referred to a neurologist who ordered a brain scan and a 48-hour portable electroencephalogram. By this point I had already resigned myself to the fact that I had epilepsy, so it was quite a shock when I went back to see the neurologist to be told my results were clear! What she said next upset me, although she didn’t do this intentionally:

“Your seizures are caused by stress. They are pseudo-seizures.”

I just heard the word “pseudo,” which I understood to mean “fake,” and got quite offended. “Are you saying it’s all in my head?” I asked, confused. She said no, but all I could think of was how angry I felt. More recently, another doctor said the seizures and dystonia were stress-related, but I still wouldn’t accept it.

The thing about somatoform disorders is that although the cause is not physical, the symptoms are totally real to the sufferer. A person with a somatoform disorder still blacks out as they seize or feels agonizing pain, even if tests say otherwise. What I have learned is that my illnesses are just as real to me as a genuine case of dystonia or epilepsy. None of these symptoms are faked by the sufferer.

The reason I still feel bad about talking about it, though, is because I often read stories about people who weren’t believed by their doctors when they presented their symptoms. They mention being told it was “all in their head,” then talk about the relief of finding out it wasn’t. At one point I thought I would never get that relief, but now I have, because I have a somatoform disorder and I am no longer ashamed to admit it. I hope other people like me will read this and feel the courage to spread the word about somatoform disorders so maybe one day we can find a cure.

Follow this journey on A Lifetime of Labels.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us about the first time you reached out to someone about your mental illness. Whether it was a friend or a professional, we want to hear about why you opened up, how it went, and why you’re glad (or maybe not glad) you did it. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Woman With Mental Illness Posted Selfies to Help Employers Identify 'Fakers'

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In response to an article published by The Sydney Morning Herald about how employers can identify people who are “faking” mental illness to get out of work, writer Anna Spargo-Ryan posted two selfies to show how easy it is tell when someone’s faking it.

Her message: The concept is bogus.

These photos of me were taken three days apart,” she wrote in a Facebook post (below). “In the first one, I have a mental illness. And in the second one, I have a mental illness.”

These photos of me were taken three days apart. In the first one, I have a mental illness. And in the second one, I...

Posted by Anna Spargo-Ryan on Friday, 22 January 2016

 

In one of the photos, Spargo-Ryan is visibly upset. In the other, she looks “put together.” She said an article about “faking” mental illness is problematic because it perpetuates the belief that people with mental illness just “aren’t trying hard enough.” The real issue in the workplace are people with mental illness who are faking being well, not the other way around.

“Both of these photos are mental illness,” she said. “I hope this helps you to spot the fakers.”

Read her post in its entirety below:

These photos of me were taken three days apart.
In the first one, I have a mental illness.
And in the second one, I have a mental illness.

The Sydney Morning Herald today published an article by James Adonis, about how employers can identify people who are “faking” mental illness to get out of work.

One of the recommendations from this absolute dropkick of a human was to “issue a warning to those you suspect are faking it.”

Part of what makes mental illness so hard to identify in at-risk people is the constant reinforcement that we’re “imagining it” or that we’re “just sad” or that we “have to want to get better”. It’s an ethereal illness, existing only because we can’t be bothered to be well, or because we’ve talked ourselves into it, or because we didn’t try hard enough, or because we are faking it.

Garbage “people-management thinkers” who choose to perpetuate the myth that mental illness is probably a fakery do so to broad societal detriment. Good people have mental illnesses. We need them to feel supported and empowered in their places, whether that’s work or home or school or somewhere else. Not that someone is waiting to “catch them out”. Not that their illness is not legitimate. Not that the time they take away from work to seek treatment is bogus.

Both of these photos are mental illness. I hope this helps you to spot the fakers.

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When Biting My Fingers Took Over My Mind

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You can tell a lot from a person’s hands, especially if they have dermatophagia. Seems calm and collected, but the fingers are all torn up? Yep, it was a bad week. It was a quiet disease that overtook my mind slowly. I always thought I had control over it, until I realized it wasn’t a habit anymore; it was a mental disorder.

Dermatophagia, as it turns out, is actually a mental disorder related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), in the body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB) family. It is the obsessive urge to bite the skin, usually around on the fingers and sometimes insides of the mouth. Unfortunately, some with BFRB disorders might just think they have a “bad habit,” or they’re too ashamed to bring these disorders to light. Dermatophagia, in particular, is very damaging to the skin, and like all BFRBs, it is damaging to self-esteem.

It starts out as a nervous habit, but then spirals into a horrific cycle that comes subconsciously. I never see myself doing it until I’m already biting the skin. But the scariest part of it is not being able to stop.

It hurts, yes. But the feeling of ripping the skin off, so the surface of my fingers is smooth, is satisfying enough to cause me to ignore the pain. Sometimes on really bad days, I bite my fingers until I bleed. Sometimes I bite my skin while it’s still bleeding. And when I’m not biting my skin on my fingers, sometimes I bite my inner lip until it bleeds.

It sounds terrible, and it is. It can go unnoticed by most, until you have to do something that involves showing your fingers, such as typing or writing. Holding someone’s hand causes anxiety because all you can think about is if they can feel the callouses that have formed on your fingers. The skin around your nails is weak and pink. You try to hide your hands whenever possible.

If we don’t like what we are doing to our bodies, just stop, right?

For 15 years, I’ve been through the routine: bite and pick, feel remorse, swear you will never bite again, and go to bed with healing lotion and bandages on your fingers. But somewhere along the road to recovery, either you start again without noticing, or you have this indescribable urge to bite off a hangnail. You feel like you’re in a trance when you’re biting. And so it begins again. It haunts you throughout your life and you don’t know how to stop. So you just cover your fingers in bandages and try not to think about how you’re destroying your own hands.

I’m still struggling with it. After much trial and error, I haven’t found a way to stop by my own will. If you have it, you know what I mean when I say that clear nail polish, gloves, Band-Aids, etc. do not make it stop. Dermatophagia is definitely in the mind. It has nothing to do with the actual biting. If it did, I’d be over it by now. I’m trying to face the fact that BFRBs are a form of mental illness, and I do need help.

For sufferers of dermatophagia or any of the various BFRBs, please know that while you might feel alone in this, there are other people out there who understand what you are going through. As we bring awareness to this subject, we will be able to experiment and share what works and what does not work. We actually have an awareness week: October 1 to 7, 2015 was BFRB Awareness Week. The best thing you can do for yourself is to seek help if you have a BFRB. Do not be afraid to ask for help.

I can’t let this take over. And neither should you.

nicolette siriwong
Nicolette

Follow this journey on Nicoc.o.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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The 4 Worst Reactions to My Mental Illness

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I used to only disclose my mental illness to a few people because I was worried about the reactions I would get. I had already received negative responses when I had to stop working. But not talking about my mental illness limited my ability to converse. It was hard to think of things to talk about. I was afraid my secret would get out, so I’ve slowly been opening up. And although being open about my mental illness makes me feel free, it comes with a cost.

Here are some of the worst things people have told me after I’ve opened up about my mental illness:

1. “I want the old you back.”

First off, I know I’ve lost a lot because of my illness. Jobs, friends, income, time. I feel that loss. I want those things back, too. But, I’m realistic enough to know time has moved on and I have to deal with where I am now. But, more importantly, I’m right here. I may act strange sometimes or think unusual thoughts, but I’m still the person I’ve always been. Accept me as I am now.

2. “You need to…”

I’ve been given a lot of unsolicited advice. But I’m actually doing pretty well at the moment and don’t need suggestions. But, even when I was more symptomatic, I didn’t need people to tell me what I should and shouldn’t do.

3. “You’re too emotional.”

I’m not sure what that means. I have a mood disorder and changing moods come with the territory. When you point out I’m “too emotional” or “too sensitive” it’s completely unfair. I can’t help how I feel.

4. “You don’t look like you have a mental illness.”

I don’t know what to say to that. I think it’s meant as some sort of compliment, but it negates all I’ve been through and denies something that I know is real.

All I expect from others is to listen and be understanding. To treat me like a whole person and not something that needs to be fixed. To feel loved and like I matter. That’s all I need.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us one thing your loved ones might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. What would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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