What is Mental Illness?
Mental illness is a condition that can affect a person’s thinking, mood or feelings. Around the world one in four people will be affected by a mental illness within their lifetime.
A more freighting statistic states that 5% of people will experience a mental illness in any given year. That is a whooping 44 million people; to put into perspective the total population of the Caribbean is 44.42 million.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, mental illnesses can be divided into two broad categories: Any Mental Illness (AMI) and Serious Mental Illness (SMI).
In the US 18.9% of adults suffer from AMI, which encompasses all known mental illnesses. In comparison, SMI is prevalent within 11.2 million or 4.5% of adults in the US.
What is worst than these outrageous numbers are that it is affecting persons you encounter daily, your brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, and the person who you carelessly cursed at when releasing your road rage.
This shows that millions of people are affected by this disease that has been treated lightly in the past years. Furthermore, it is unfortunate that in third world countries there are only 2 per 100,000 health care workers for the population. Compared to 70 per 100,000 in wealthier nations.
People suffering with mental illnesses may continually suffer, as appropriate measures are not readily available in many societies. Creating an endless cycle of torture where persons who cannot mentally defend themselves face the stigma that “mental illness is all in our heads.”
Because you are reading this you understand the reality of mental illness. Here are 3 essential tips everyone should consider before attempting to help someone who is mentally ill.
Be quick to listen, not to speak
Disclaimer: I am not a professional psychologist/therapist. Everything stated below is of personal opinion based entirely from observation. If you or someone you know suffers from a mental illness seek professional help or locate a community that is willing to support you. Do not fight this battle alone. Remain encouraged.
Great communication starts from those who can listen well. And if the person you are trying to help refuses to be open, you should refrain from trying to pry them open like clam shells.
When you attempt to offer emphatic comfort, gradually ease into the conversation. Do not try to force the conversation, this might make the person uncomfortable.
From personal experience, I find it easier to be open to persons who speak in a calm and unbiased manner. It becomes difficult to be vulnerable when the person speaking talks forcefully. Many persons who are mentally ill will certainly resonate with this feeling.
If a person suffering from severe depression decides to sincerely express themselves to you, listening should become the main priority. Once you gain an understanding of what that person may be going through, provide an unbiased response.
As controversial as this may seem, sometimes the person suffering is just seeking a listening ear and not necessarily the advice itself. Persons with mental illnesses may have self-defeating thoughts. A great advice can ultimately shift and torture someone mentally if your motive is to share ‘your best advice’ rather than one from the ‘heart’.
Avoid sharing biased opinions
“We are all a little crazy.”
“Pray about it.”
“Go take a walk.”
A popular advice is to tell someone that they should get into exercising. For numerous reasons exercising is great advice, but do not expect the person you are trying to help to heed your words.
You may think this person is overreacting, but mental illness can affect a person’s well-being. In most cases physical fatigue can affect someone who is suffering mentally.
Bear in mind that even if you yourself are a victim of mental illness, what may work or have worked for you may prove ineffective for someone else. Everyone is unique, not one method will solve everyone’s problems. Be mindful that you want to provide help not force it.
Sharing helpful advice or praying for an individual is the ultimate purpose of the conversation. However, if the person is not comfortable to receiving that kind of advice, hold off or refrain from sharing it outright.
Your focus should steer you to be supportive and understanding. Attempting to share relevant facts may build a wall between you and the person. In addition, if you decide to give advice, watch the persons body language or listen to their tone of voice. If they start to close themselves off becoming distant, stop and address the situation from a different angle. Remember, refrain from prying the individual as if they are a clam shell.
Be mindful of others
Today people are mocked for being easily triggered. Mental illness or not, most of us are prepared to go on the defensive when we feel attacked or inconvenienced.
When most people speak, we are not considerate of how others feel. This causes a rift in society where persons are willing to share what’s on their minds without considering how other people will receive the message.
Because being inconsiderate is becoming the new normal, there are people who assume that anyone who cannot handle what is being said are “snowflakes.”
Personally, this advice is the most difficult to share. I never had an opinion on this matter because I was not directly affected by this. That was until I joined Twitter.
I joined Twitter several months ago, for the purpose to promote my blog page. I decided to follow persons who identified themselves as mentally ill. My goal was to join a community that I had felt drawn to.
One observation I made was that some people can be ridiculously insensitive. Especially persons who follow these mental health advocates and find any reason to accuse them of wrongdoing.
If you are passionate about mental health and follow a mental health advocate, be mindful that they are living the pain that they share with their audience. This is the best time to keep negative comments to yourself. You may think you have the best intentions in mind, but if your comment is to only criticize, then you will only do damage.
I am not saying to support what you may think to be negative content. If you find something offensive, it is best that you unfollow that individual. Whatever the issue may be, becoming a keyboard warrior should be the absolute last resort.
For those who feel they are entitled to their own opinions, you absolutely are. Although, no one is entitled to be a ‘dick’. Please, remember that not everything needs to be said online, if you wouldn’t say it in person than you should probably not say it online.
If you want to help someone who is mentally ill it is best to consider doing some research on how to speak with them. There are wonderful tips available online, also you may want to consider reading Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry. Emotional Intelligence can help you understand the science of speaking to others.
I hope these tips help you comfort someone who is suffering with a mental illness.
What did you think of these tips? If you want to add more, please feel free to comment below. Let us all band together to help one another.
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