Updated: Mar 31, 2021
Do they really?! But they're so... Productive, successful, together, organised, smart, charismatic, etc.
Have you ever thought things like this when someone says they have mental health problems or live with a mental illness? Thoughts and comments like these add further barriers to people being honest about their mental health. Some mental health problems enhance these 'positive' qualities, for example, people with anxiety may be extremely organised and productive and people with mood or personality disorders may be extremely charismatic. Others living with a mental illness may be well at that period of time, but work really hard to maintain their wellness. If we think of mental illness as just an illness, would you say to someone with asthma who does triathlons, "do you really have asthma?!" or someone with a chronic disease who is looking well with, "are you really sick?!" People can be quick to judge any illness but we find this heightened when the illness has no physical symptoms. Recently a number of high profile figures have spoken publicly about their mental health problems and have received negative comments and little compassion for their daily struggles. This has compounded the fear many people face about talking openly about their mental health.
Here are a few tips to help you to respond appropriately when someone shares their mental health problems or illness with you.
1. Believe them. We only know what each person tells us. Use this time to get to know the person and spend time to really listen to their story, showing respect about what they would like to share.
2. Remember that mental health isn't the only thing they want to talk about. Acknowledge what they have told you, but don't let this change your relationship as a friend, a colleague or a loved one.
3. Don't assume you know what they need, just ask them. "Is there anything that I can do to support you?" One example of this is that we may assume a person with social anxiety may want to stay at home. This may not be the case at all, rather they may just want you to show up and support them to attend social events.
4. If you are not comfortable with responding to someone's mental health problems or are worried about their wellbeing, that's ok. Let them know, "I'm not really sure what to do here, but I'm happy to support you to find someone who does." Then you can find someone more skilled to have these conversations. Jump online and look at some resources, or find a professional for them to talk to. Be their friend, this is also essential to someone's recovery journey. With 50% of Australians living with a mental illness at some point in their life these conversations need to become more normalised and less judgmental. Thanks for being a part of a healthy community and go out there and have some meaningful conversations with people you care about.