By Lisa Fourman
According to Mental Health America, 1 in 5 adults have a mental health condition. That’s over 40 million Americans! That could be your close relative, a friend, or even a neighbor. You may not realize just how close to your home mental illness might hit.
Have you ever thought about the friend you have who stops responding to your messages for months at a time? Chances are, he or she might be suffering in complete silence. There is a stigma attached to mental illness that isolates those who suffer and prevent them from talking about it out of shame.
They might need help and you'd never know it. Their silence doesn't mean they don't want your help, they might not know themselves how you can help them. Trying to help someone with a mental illness can be delicate so telling them to “see someone” is not going to make their situation better.
For me, mental illness hit incredibly close to home. I have generalized anxiety disorder, my brother has bipolar disorder, and my father had an anxiety disorder when he was still alive.
This was not spoken about in our home because of the stigma. My father didn’t realize we would suffer from what he had spent his entire life running from. We needed help but didn’t know how to get it.
What if you can help your friend? What if there is a way to help him or her that actually brings real relief? It's not hard if you know how to do it the right way.
Here are three easy ways: Get your friend to talk to you without pushing, give them your full attention, and take them seriously. Follow those ways and you might save his or her life.
1. Offer the person an ear if they want to talk but don't push it.
If you notice your friend is struggling, offer them to talk about it with you. Making yourself available can make all the difference to someone who suffers in silence.
If they say they don't want to talk about it, don't insist. Pushing the issue doesn't solve the problem but adds to the pressure and anxiety he or she might already feel.
Be patient. Let some time pass before asking to talk about it again or let them approach you when they’re ready.
Do not force them to speak about their struggles especially if it is your spouse or child, it will only create more of a divide between the two of you. Make sure you reassure them that you just want to help them.
2. Give your full attention.
When someone with a mental illness feels safe to talk to you, the battle is half-won so give them your undivided attention. Being able to speak to you about their struggles with mental illness is something you need to pay full attention to.
When your friend asks you to talk, place your focus and attention on them alone. It gives them the idea that you don't have anywhere else to be. Truly listen to what they’re telling you and try to put yourself in their shoes. Ask questions, ask for examples if you don't understand how it must feel like. The more you know, the better you can help them in the future.
There's nothing more discouraging than watching someone fiddle on their phone while you're talking, or not making eye contact, getting interrupted, or saying “I know”.
3. Take what the person says seriously.
If your friend talks about their depression, take their words seriously. Let them know from the beginning that they can talk to you about anything. Make sure they know that you believe them, understand them, and they can trust you.
Having a mental health condition makes people feel alone and wildly misunderstood because of the stigma. Mental illness is not always visible so it doesn't attract a lot of empathy. A broken arm seems more serious than anxiety when in reality it's not. So, when someone opens up about their anxiety or depression even if they seem physically fine, they need to be taken seriously. Let them see that they have someone on their side.
Having a Mental Illness
Having a mental illness is serious and deeply stigmatized, but you can have a huge impact on a friend's life and the world when you become the person that understands and can be trusted.
All you need is to do is offer to listen, give your undivided attention and take it seriously.
I know in my case, life has become a lot easier now that my mom and i openly talk about my family's struggles.