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5 Everyday 'Superpowers' That Can Help You Support Someone With Mental Illness

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Anger. Blame. Anger. Blame. Anger. Those are the five stages of grief I faced in the first two years after losing my sister to suicide. She lost a long battle with depression and anxiety that she masked from so many of us. What causes so much anger and blame? I believe it’s fighting an invisible enemy that you can’t comprehend and know nothing about. Rationalizing that she had so much to live for, while not able to understand mental illness is often uncontrollable. Asking how and why, over and over, while realizing I’ll never get those answers. Finding stigma and misunderstanding everywhere around mental health issues. Realizing how delicate the balance is between the life and death struggles she kept so well hidden.

It’s been five years since my sister died by suicide. I’m way past daily anger and blame. My focus now is to be there for others while treasuring today, and to openly share my story and what I’ve learned about mental health so that others may learn from my journey. If you’ve never struggled with mental illness,then you may not understand. Five years ago, I’m not sure I would have paid attention. I hope you keep reading because this can save lives.

My church’s recent children’s message asked whether there are heroes among us, and how you can be a superhero in everyday life. Here are my superpower suggestions that everyday people need in order to fight mental health issues.

1. Knowledge

Depression, anxiety and other mental health issues — along with suicides — are everywhere. They impact families. Stories are often hidden in family trees. They often manifest physically. They can be sneaky. They are misunderstood. They can lie to you. They can make you feel alone and like no one else will ever understand. But you should also know that each of us can learn techniques to strengthen our resilience to mental illness and be there for others. Please know people are struggling to live and die at the same time. If you google “top 10 things not to say to someone who is depressed,” it’s eye-opening. I know my family members said many of these unintentionally harmful things to my sister at some point. People don’t always choose to die by suicide, sometimes they feel it’s the only option. Know that the human spirit is strong and that just getting someone through today can make all the difference.

2. QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer)

I personally have been in the position to save lives by applying both CPR and QPR. I’m sure you are familiar with CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and the basic lifesaving techniques you can apply in emergencies. How about QPR? QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) is recognizing the warning signs of a suicide crisis and how to question, persuade and refer someone to get help. This training is typically less than one hour, and is also available online.

3. Compassion

Listen. Really listen. You don’t need to “fix” anything, you just need to be there. Without judgment. Trust your instincts and check in on those around you. Let anyone struggling know they are never alone. Let them know they matter.

4. Storytelling

Share your stories. There is amazing strength when sharing stories of struggle and vulnerability. I hear incredible personal stories all the time. These stories build connections, give others hope and are a powerful tool in the fight against stigma.

5. Self-care

Depression and other mental illnesses can physically change the structure of your brain. Small adjustments in your actions and thoughts can reverse these changes and reshape your brain. The Upward Spiral, by Alex Korb, Ph.D., is one book using the latest neuroscience research to offer easy tips all of us can do to rewire our brains and build upward spirals towards a happier, healthier life. Today is the day to invest more in yourself — you’re worth it!

It’s been five years since my sister, Katherine, died, and I still think about her every single day. I would do anything to have another shot at using my newly discovered superpowers to bring her back and be there for her, but I can’t. What I can do is live my life proudly in her honor and be here if others need or want to talk, or to discuss anything related to my journey. I am a better person because of my sister, and she continues to teach me so much. Today is the only guarantee that any of us have. Chase your dreams. Cherish the journey. Treasure every single step. I know with unshakable faith that you matter, today matters, and your dreams matter. Believe it. Our compassion determines the greatness around us. We are saving lives and giving others hope.

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.

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Thinkstock photo via Choreograph.

Originally published: June 5, 2017
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