How to Help a Friend Who Is Struggling With Mental Illness

1k
1k

It’s pain. You feel it in your heart, looking at your loved one who’s struggling. You want to do anything to help them. You want to tell them how wonderful they are. You want to explain how much love you have for them. You’re not sure they’d hear it right now though.

Actually, you’re definitely sure they won’t.

You see them day in and day out, fighting the intangible demons in their soul and you just want to fight with them. You want to stand at their side and tell them you know how strong they are, that this is something temporary and this too shall pass. You’ve seen them come back from darker moments but you’re not sure if this is the one that breaks the camel’s back.

You want to be their strength in this time of weakness. You want to carry them on your back as their knees get weaker and weaker and standing becomes almost too much for them to bear. As life kicks them square in the jaw, you’re the one picking them up every time and reminding them they can do this. They can get through this.

How do I know about the pain you’re feeling while struggling to love your loved one? I see that same pain in the faces of the people who love me every time I feel like giving up. I hear the determination in their voice to try to save me when I’m at my lowest point in my depression.

I feel their love when the numbness takes over my entire body and getting out of bed isn’t going to happen that day.

I fully believe people with mental illnesses are warriors who are so strong, embracing their struggles and dealing with their shit. I also know that their loved ones, our loved ones, are heroes. Sometimes our loved ones are the only shining beacon of light in dark and painful times.

I know it’s hard for me to appreciate those people when I’m struggling. It’s hard for me to remember every single person who showers me with unconditional love when my heart is broken into millions of little pieces. Those people crouch beside me and help me pick up the pieces time and time again. They lie next to me when I can’t get out of bed and comfort me by just being there.

I know there’s things you wish you could do — a way to take the pain away that’s plaguing your loved one so bad right now. I know there’s a need to fix everything. I also know there’s a helplessness you feel when you realize that sometimes you can’t do something to help. Sometimes there isn’t a right thing to say. Sometimes there isn’t a right thing to do. No matter what, the love you give is enough. It’s enough to be just a phone call away. It’s enough to just give us a hug when things feel like they’re collapsing. It’s enough to just be there.

So this is an appreciation to all the loved ones out there who are loving the shit out of people with mental illnesses. This is also for the people who don’t turn their back when someone is struggling to deal with their own heartache. This is for the people who continuously love no matter what.

You are appreciated for being you and for loving us when we need it most. Thank you.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Unsplash photo via Evan Kirby

1k
1k
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

How I Learned to Be the Parent I Wanted to Be Despite a Traumatic Upbringing

30
30

Many people have wonderful and nurturing role models for mothers growing up. Some mothers, even as children have gotten older, are still the most important women in some people’s lives. I know this to be true, as I often hear many of my friends talk about fun outings they have with their mothers and the endless array of phone calls they share each day to discuss important life issues or just to say, “hi.”  However, I’m willing to bet a few of you, like me, have absolutely no concept of what this kind of relationship feels like. Some of us have mothers who do not fit this description.

I have very few memories of early childhood, but the ones I do, all have two common themes: sadness and fear. I can recall being outside on the driveway crying, my brother holding me, covering my ears so I wouldn’t hear my parents fighting inside. By age four, they began a lengthy and horrific decade-long divorce. The details are not important, but my mother was often emotionally and verbally abusive my brother and me. Today, I can look at my reflection in the mirror and see the terrible scars of the decades of abuse, so invisible to many, but ever so clear to me.

Much of this abuse still goes on today. Even as a grown woman, with children of my own, her words and actions still manage to slice through my heart and my psyche. Despite understanding the futility, I continue to look to her for the validation I never got in my youth. It’s been a long road to acceptance, but I know now I will never receive it in adulthood either — not, at least, from her. I wish I didn’t feel this way and sometimes want to erase them from my history altogether. But alas, I cannot. Despite my past, right now, I am happy and proud of the woman I have worked so hard to become.

Though my upbringing was difficult, I learned the most important parenting lesson of my life: I did not have to be the same kind of parent as my mother. As a mother of two incredible children, I refuse to continue the cycle of unhealthy parenting and abuse. I strive to be a loving, supportive, competent mother, a mother whose children are not afraid of her. 

Sure, I learned other good things from my mother as well — she wasn’t all bad all of the time. She taught me how to cook and passed on her love of all movies involving 18th and 19th century costumes. She made sure to instill a love of reading and education, beautiful art and baking of incredible desserts. But in the past year, as I have made changes in my life and grown emotionally stronger as a woman and a mother, I realize I wanted a different life for me and my family.

My mother has a mental illness. I work hard at happiness because I have seen how unhappy she can be. Despite sharing some of her genetics, I choose to work at not allowing my mental health to dictate my life in its entirety. I have come to understand her behavior and her actions, as a mother and as a person, can come from a place of untreated mental illness. Because of this understanding, I have the capacity to not only forgive her, but to understand I have the choice for recovery. I choose to no longer be a victim of parenting, to no longer allow her words and behavior to bring me down. And for this, I am lucky.

I swam through the shark infested waters of my childhood, and though I came out on the other side damaged, I am not beyond repair. Through it all, I learned some important truths about the kind of parent I want to be. This would not have happened had I not gown up the way I did. So, ultimately, I am thankful for my past for teaching me I have the strength to break the cycle.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Unsplash photo via Thomas Kelley.

30
30
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

How You Can Help Me Turn Darkness Into Light for Friends During Times of Need

28
28

I’m currently in my seventh week in a hospital where I’m trying to fix both my body and mind, which have been somewhat cruelly abused by anorexia and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It can feel quite a lonely place, both physically and mentally, but one of the things I have found that can always lift the fog a little is when the postman comes calling with a handwritten card from someone I care about. 

The power of even the simplest of handwritten messages to penetrate the darkness a little got me to thinking about how great it would be if we could mobilize people to reach out to their friends at difficult times — whether that’s due to mental or physical illness, bereavement or any other issue. Often at these times, as friends, we really want to support but we just don’t know what to say.

And so “Together we can: Cards to Send to Friends Facing Hard Times” was born.

Myself and my friend Caro (the creative genius!) launched it as a Kickstarter campaign with the aim of raising enough money to produce and distribute 3,000 cards that pledgers could send to their loved ones. Each pack of cards will also be supplied with simple suggestions about how to support a friend through difficult times.

And the response has been tremendous! We are hoping to raise £5k in 30 days, which looks hopeful as we hit the £2k mark in under 24 hours. Many people’s pledges are simple and are essentially advance purchases of the cards, whilst others have made a pledge that will enable them to co-create a card with us, have their pet featured or be a VIP at our launch party. We hope that you’d like to support our campaign too and help us reach our £5k target. The cards will ship all over the world, lighting darkness with smiles wherever they go.

We’ve aimed for a mixture of kind, supportive and funny cards so there should be something to suit everyone. If the project continues to capture imaginations, then I hope we will grow the range in response to our network’s suggestions and keep it as an ongoing endeavor and continual fund raiser for the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust children and young people’s mental health program (which funds things like our webinar series designed for anyone working with or caring for a young person with a mental health issue) and our weekly mental health podcast.

Please take a look and consider joining those who have already pledged to help turn this dream into a reality and help turn darkness into light for friends during times of need. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Melpomenem

28
28
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

How Can You Help Someone With a Mental Health Issue?

65
65

Depression comes at us with a one-two punch from every angle in life, whether it’s affecting someone we know or we’re experiencing it ourselves.

With an estimated 54 million Americans struggling with some form of mental disorder in a given year, we can’t just throw a pillow over our heads and hide. No one chooses depression. No one wants to be considered ill. No one wants to be stigmatized by society — a society which is ironically filled with depressed people.

Depression’s symptoms can last for days, weeks and months, and include feelings of hopelessness, rejection, poor concentration, sleep problems, lack of energy and sometimes suicidal thoughts. The good news is it’s treatable and life does get better with the correct tools, effort, support and many times medication.

Part of the problem is a lot of families are not prepared to deal with the effects of depression in a loved one. It may be emotionally exhausting to deal with. The onus is ultimately on the person with depression to get help, but having a good support system is widely undervalued.

In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, what are some ways you can you support a loved one with mental health problems?

Recognize warning signs

People with depression don’t typically want to admit they are having problems, so they tend to isolate as much as possible. Sometimes the clues are subtle and take time to reveal themselves. Other times, the warning signs are right in front of our noses.

They may not want to socialize or partake in their usual activities because the thought of it is exhausting. The growing inability to cope with life’s daily activities and problems becomes evident when the person can’t seem to bring themselves to do simple tasks. They tend to worry excessively, or may be overly angry. Substance abuse, including smoking, drinking and prescription drugs, is another sign of depression. A substance abuse counselor may be necessary at this point.

In some cases, people with mental illness hear voices, see things, or have strange thoughts or delusions. Suicidal thoughts are another obvious sign of depression.

In the past, when I’ve been depressed, I couldn’t find the energy to take my dog out for his morning walk. It’s really depressing when you can’t muster enough strength to tend to the needs of the one living creature who depends on you most.

Offer help

If you think or know your loved one is struggling with depression, ask them what you can do to support without sounding “preachy,” or like you have the best answer. Encourage them to get help, even if that help is rejected.

You may not know what the best answer is, and you may give advice that the person doesn’t take. You shouldn’t have to feel like you’re walking on eggshells around that person. Keep it simple: Just be there and ask what you can do.

Be compassionate

No one wants to feel like they are going through life alone. Be there to hold their hand when they cry or tell them they are loved and needed in this world of ours. It’s easy to get impatient and frustrated with someone struggling with depression.

Being there in person without trying to fix anything goes a long way in showing someone you care. So does listening without judgment. Keep in mind that depression is extremely painful to go through and talk about. It will probably take multiple conversations because the needs of a depressed person will shift as time goes on. There’s not a straight line of recovery.

Take good care of yourself. You are not your loved one’s therapist. Set boundaries for yourself, don’t let resentment build and keep communication open. Maybe you need to join your own support group or see a counselor. Shouldering someone else’s problems can be tough. Focus on your own emotions and feelings.

Suicide risk

Seek immediate assistance if you think a family member or friend is in danger of harming themselves. Call a crisis line, like the National Suicide Prevention line at 1 800-273-TALK, or 911.

One of the groups most at risk for suicide is the mentally ill. The relationship between those struggling with mental illness or mood disorders and suicide is intertwined. There’s an extremely fine line between thinking suicidal thoughts and acting upon them. Someone who is entertaining thoughts of ending their life or how they can kill themselves or how the world would be a better place without them in it – even if they aren’t verbalizing it – need immediate help. If you think a friend or family member is in need of community mental health services you can find help in your area.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Unsplash photo via Korney Violin

65
65
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

How I Define 'Hope' as Someone With a Mental Illness

19
19

Hope – hōp/ – noun

1) Hope is a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.

2) Hope is the act of trusting in something.

Hope – hōp/ – verb

1) Hope is wanting something to happen.

Many 20-year-olds are hoping to finish college. They hope their major is the right one. They hope to buy a nice house and marry their love. To get promotions and have a happy family.

That’s what most people want, isn’t it? To be happy and have everything just fall into place. But it doesn’t really work like that, does it? We put faith in this simple word: hope. Hoping things will work out the way we expected.

Hope seems to have a different meaning for people like me. See, for some of us, hope is hoping we will make it to see our futures pan out. We just hope one day our pain will be gone or that we won’t feel so numb. See, we simply want to be happy. I mean sure, we want mostly the same things, but we hope to feel alive the most. To feel alive and not just feel pain and emptiness.

We hope to …

Get stuck in rain storms. To feel the cold rain run down our faces. To experience the way it smells after a huge rain storm. To look around and see the beauty in nature. To be able to feel sorry for the ones who are running late for work and missing the beautiful views.

To look in the mirror without seeing flaws. To be able to feel comfortable in our own skin.

To be able to walk across the graduation stage. Thinking: Hey, look! All those nights crying and pushing myself actually worked out.

To find a good job. One that isn’t all about the money. The one you wake up to smiling because you can’t wait to start your day.

To buy a nice house. Not just a fairytale house, just one to raise a happy family in. One to you can see yourself building yourself in.

To marry someone you love. Not just to marry someone with looks and success. To fall in love with someone else’s soul. To be open with them and someone who supports you on your worst days.

Making a happy family. To teach members of your family not only how to be good hardworking people, but to teach them about mental illness. Being able to express to them what it means to struggle.

I use to believe “hope” was just this simple word. One made to remind us things can change. It’s sort of like the word “faith.” They are just simple words, with deep meanings. I used to not believe in these simple words. Not thinking my life could change, but it can.

Hope: the act in trusting in something. I hope you trust in yourself. Realizing there are many things to place hope into. Have faith and remain patient. Don’t just hope for big things, remember the little things in life. I hope you smile today.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Image via Thinkstock

19
19
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Answering 'So What Are You Doing Now?' When Mental Illness Keeps You From Working

3k
3k

The dreaded question that apparently everybody feels compelled to ask when they haven’t seen you in a while:

“So what are you doing now?”

Such a loaded question, full of pressure and expectation. “You’re in your 20s, recently graduated, surely you must be doing something?”

I’m unable to work at the moment. Each day is a struggle, a gargantuan effort to simply survive — getting out of bed, remembering to feed and bathe myself is already pushing me towards my limits, yet I feel so inadequate when I simply reply “I’m living.”

The average person doesn’t understand that to be living, to be enduring my mental and physical pain day in, day out is such an achievement.

I am still here, still fighting, still living.

I think people think I lounge around all day, having fun doing nothing. I’m never not doing something — that’s the reality.

If I’m in bed, I’m willing myself to get up or desperately hoping that today my pain will allow me to bathe. When I’m stuck inside watching television my brain is distracted, full of guilt, thinking I should be doing more, or I’ll be sitting, sorting through correspondence but in actuality I’m sorting through my very own brain fog.

To wake up each day and choose to carry on, to not give in — that’s what I’m doing.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Photo by Aidan Meyer, via Unsplash

3k
3k
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Real People. Real Stories.

7,000
CONTRIBUTORS
150 Million
READERS

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.