Reaching out about mental health problems is extremely difficult, but it is also extremely difficult to be on the receiving end. Especially if, like most, you don’t know what you can do or say and don’t want to do the wrong thing.
There’s plenty of information out there on what to do when someone reaches out to you, but here’s three things to definitely avoid.
1. Don’t Claim To Understand
Don’t claim to understand if you don’t, mental illness is an incredibly lonely experience but if you try to compare your experiences to a mental illness you will lead us to feel so incredibly misunderstood. We’re trying to tell you we’re sick, it’s a little bit like comparing a migraine to a headache. Comparing it to mental stability is going to insult us, because if you managed your issue then why can’t we handle ours. It’s okay to not understand something you have never experienced, I don’t know what childbirth is like. I know it’s painful, I can empathise, but I don’t understand. Instead, be honest with us like we so desperately are with you. There’s nothing wrong with saying you don’t know what it’s like but you love and support that person. It’s also okay to ask how you can help, we don’t expect you to read our minds.
2. Don’t Try To Fix It
All too often the immediate response I get when I reach out is advice and ideas of things to do to help. I appreciate that this comes from a loving place of wanting to help so desperately, but please don’t. My bipolar disorder, for example, cannot be fixed by yoga, a bath or a walk. Sure these can help manage symptoms, and are great for wellbeing in general, but they are not the quick fix for me that they are for you. If it were that simple, nobody would suffer from mental health. Unfortunately, one in four of us will at least once in our lives. It’s complicated, and so is it’s cure. We just want a space to talk without being made to feel like it looks like we aren’t trying. We are.
3. Don’t Ignore Us
This leads in from number one, and is something I am genuinely shocked to have to say. But don’t ignore us, don’t go silent or leave us on read. Our hearts are pounding with fear that you’re about to run a mile and never talk to us again. We’re afraid, alone and unwell and we need your support. I again cannot stress this enough, it’s okay not to know what to say. But please, say something.