I suffer from anxiety, depression, psychosis and an eating disorder, Guest Blog by Sophie Mei Lan
“I suffer from anxiety, depression, psychosis and an eating disorder. I’m no academic but I’ve suffered from a variety of mental illnesses for almost 20 years – so I probably know more than most.
Here are 10 ways you can help someone with a mental health problem (from my personal experience):
1) If you think/know someone has a mental health problem, mention it in confidence to them. Ask them how they’re feeling? Don’t assume. Lots of people think I’m fine as my natural facial expression is to smile. I really relate to the analogy ‘tears of a clown.’
2) If they don’t want to talk, don’t try and force them. Just explain that you are there for them whether they want to talk about the weather or their mental health. Explain that they can contact you should they need to vent or to just get out of the house and go on a walk. Personally I’ll talk to my husband about my mental health because he knows my full history without having to explain everything again, which is why I don’t feel like talking in too much detail with my family and friends or even professionals. I’m open about it but I just can’t be bothered with explaining the whats and the whys – it’s far too draining. So don’t be offended if they don’t want to talk to you.
3) Don’t try to “fix” the problem because mental health sadly isn’t that simple. People will have a variety of things that are linked to their mentally ill health. For me, I think it was childhood experiences, a predisposition to mentally ill health as well a lack of self-esteem.
4) Ask someone how you can help.
5) Look after yourself. Are you stable enough in yourself to care for someone? Caring is hard and sometimes thankless work but it’s no use if you can’t care for yourself – you’ll only wear the both of you out. That doesn’t mean you can’t help but it’s probably best to get professional help from the GP, calling 111 or if someone is in crisis by calling 999 or taking them to A & E.
6) Don’t give up on them. Recovery is a long road as my husband will tell you. And it may take a number of things to help a person e.g. CBT, Complementary therapies, medicine, counselling, groups, exercise, the list goes on – it can be trial and error.
For me, I find counselling too distressing at the moment because I don’t have time to come down afterwards and I’m straight back into looking after my two young daughters. However in the past counselling has helped me overcome certain behaviours such as cutting myself. Now I find I need more gentle therapies to help me to cope such as aromatherapy massage, exercise and a release (from addiction) group. My anxiety struggles too much with 1-to-1 talking therapies.
We’re all unique human beings. We don’t all have the same symptoms or coping mechanisms when it comes to our mental health. Find the treatment that works for them as an individual.
7) Tough love won’t cut it. It can be frustrating to watch someone struggle with a mental health problem and it is hard being patient. But, from my experience, if people told me off or had a go at me about not getting better sooner, this would push me deeper into the darkness. E.g. If someone’s physical health has been altered by an eating disorder (overweight, underweight, spotty, yellow teeth, hair loss or growth etc), don’t point it out. “Urgh you look so skinny/fat.” “Stop eating fatty/Eat more skinny.” “Look what you’re doing to yourself/your family/your kids.”
8) The main thing is just to be there. It’s so simple and yet so challenging. Even a weekly text just letting them know that you’re there may help. A lot of mentally ill people struggle to be reliable but if you’re consistently there, this is of great reassurance.
9) Self-care for you and them. I am a big believer that we can help our own mental health through self-care. So encourage one another to do something nice for themselves. Whether that be to go to a spa or an art group or go shopping or for a coffee, whatever gives you and them a lift. Sometimes the sufferer might not be able to think of something to help due to their illness. But try and remind them of things they used to enjoy and support them in doing something positive again.