I’ve always agreed with that aged old saying: If you can’t say anything particularly nice, then you’re best to say nothing at all. However, when it comes to dealing with mental illnesses, particularly depression, I’ve learnt that saying something is always better than saying nothing, though sometimes a little more thought is required. It only takes a moment to try that old faithful of thinking before we speak.
Always conscious of how my words can affect others, I felt in a constant dizzy whirl trying to work out what the best, most beneficial things would be to say to Dad while he was at his worst. I took so much care over the words I chose to speak & the thoughts I chose to share with him, because I did not want to do any more damage, and so desperately wanted one thing I said to be the breakthrough that we needed.
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. If only a few specific words could rid of mental illnesses – what a wonderfully simple cure that would be! All I could do was choose kindness.
Always choose kindness. Not necessarily the kindness that works best for you, but the kindness that will work best for whoever it is that you’re trying to help.
I read an article once listing things not to say to someone suffering from or caring for someone with anxiety, depression, or any form of mental health. I could not believe some of the words I read. I can now completely resonate with this article however, because the following were messaged, emailed or said to me during the early months of Dad’s illness:
Oh I thought s/he’d be better by now.
If s/he could just get themselves more organised.
S/he will hopefully snap out of it soon.
I haven’t heard off you in a while.
I was wondering when I was going to hear off you.
What’s happening with her/him then? What’s the latest?
Mental Health is an illness not a choice. Those suffering or caring for someone with mental health have a lot going on. They don’t need the added stress of thinking & feeling like they’re letting people down. Even if you kindly suggested that they should and could call you if they need anything – they most probably won’t.
Reach out to them. Be proactive when they can’t be.
△ Try calling. If they don’t answer, leave them a caring message (it doesn’t have to be long) so that they can hear a friendly voice and know that you’re truly there, without them having to reach out when they have nothing left to give.
△ Send caring messages or thoughtful quotes randomly without expecting a response, just so that they know someone is thinking of them. It will mean more to them than you might realise at the time, but I’m sure they’ll tell you tenfold when things calm down.
△ Try not to bombard them with questions – they’ve probably had the same conversation over & over again, and while talking things through out loud can definitely help, they probably desperately need a break from having to repeat the same painful details over & over again via message. We had lots of kind and caring friends calling over the months that Dad was at his worst, but I know it took a real toll on Mum having to repeat herself and go over everything regularly, never being able to switch off from it all.
△ If you genuinely want to ask carers how the person suffering is, maybe ask a general question, for example: “So how are things?” or “How are you doing?” This allows them to open up as much or as little as they want to at the time. Remember to ask how they are too.
Carers of mental health patients often get overlooked. They need just as much support and care as those suffering with illnesses.
Just do your best to sense what would work best at the time. Sometimes asking the person what they want or need can work well, but a lot of the time they might not have a clue themselves. At the end of the day, if you’re coming from a place of love & kindness then I think it’s better to try & get it slightly wrong, than to do nothing at all, for fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. (Read some of the thoughtful & caring things that friends did during Dad’s depression, psychosis & suicide attempts here)
If you feel at a complete loss as to what to do and desperately need guidance, or just feel like you need to talk to an ear that will listen objectively, then Help Is Here
Please remember, no matter what you’re going through, you are not alone. I promise.
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