A friend in need

Ok I’d like to start this post off thanking everyone for their kind messages of support, it means a lot and I am truly touched by your kindness and the courage showed by those who disclosed their own experiences of mental health issues.

So as some of you know I am currently going through my symptoms, for the sake of arguments I am currently mental ill health (although I argue that this only happens when my symptoms affect my day to day living for more than a few days).  And some friends like Paul, Nadine, Karen, Frankie & Mike have all been wonderful and offered kind support when I need it,  even if don’t realise I need it. It led me to thinking how do you support someone experiencing mental ill health?

Firstly I’d say

Remember it’s an illness they are experiencing,  how would you be if they had the flu, appendicitis,  gall stones or any other physical condition?

It’s my belief that the person knows better than anyone else what they need to cope. Listen to them:

If they want to talk, listen to them, try not to interrupt, but affirm you are hearing what they are saying.

If they want a hug, give them one. Don’t worry you won’t catch the symptoms they are experiencing (Unlike physical illness)

If they want to be left alone, give them space, but let them know you’ll be there when they need you.

If they need distracting from intrusive thoughts,  find an activity you can do with them.

If they want to confide in you, listen, assure them that things will go no further.  You may hear some painful things, like traumatic life events or thoughts of harming themselves,  or others. It’s not your right to disclose to others what has been disclosed to you in confidence. If you genuinely are concerned for their wellbeing,  try to encourage them to contact their doctor or mental health team, if you still can’t get them to do this and you have genuine reason to question their safety,  call their doctor.  If you genuinely think they are a risk to others, and can’t get them to make contact with their health team, again if they cannot be encouraged to, make contact on their behalf. Remember if you do make contact with their doctors, or health team they may feel betrayed and exacerbate negative emotions that they feel. In my opinion it is always best to support someine in being proactive in their own treatment than depriving them the right to take responsibility for themselves and their condition.

If the person expresses suicidal feelings,  try to encourage them to get help. In my own experience guilt never works, it just makes the feelings and isolation worse. At times I have felt suicidal,  many  of which (not all) were a cry for help, rather than a genuine desire to die, the worst thing anyone could say was “what would  I/we do without you? ” or “suicide is selfish”. These to me at the time made me feel guilty,  guilty for being ill, guilty for having morbid thoughts.

Of course everyone is different,  there are no hard and fast rules to supporting someone in mental distress,  follow you instincts, but above all use your ears. Listen to the person,  reassure them.

For more information see:

http://www.mind.org.uk/help/im_worried_about_someone_else
http://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/what-speak-us-about/if-you%E2%80%99re-worried-about-someone-else
http://www.depressionalliance.org/help-and-information/friends-and-family.php
http://www.rethink.org/living_with_mental_illness/coping_in_a_crisis/crisis_and_emotional.html

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