This post is more for friends and family of those who suffer with anxiety disorders, some of the points are relevant for most mental illness.
Doing and saying the right thing to someone struggling with a mental illness is important. I have had many instances with my friends and family where they’ve said the wrong thing and have upset me a lot. Of course, this is inevitable because we aren’t trained to know what to say in every situation but hopefully these next do’s and don’ts will help you avoid saying the wrong thing more frequently!
Do – have patience. By being impatient and snapping at them makes the person feel even more guilty than they already do (I can assure you that they probably feel very, very bad because that’s a general emotional symptom). Sufferers of mental illness can’t help it and the last thing they want to do is annoy anyone. The people who are patient with me are the people who I feel most comfortable with, for example I get anxious on the tube and my friend told me that if I needed to we could both get off and take a breather. I appreciated this a lot and it made me feel much better about my situation.
Don’t – tell them not to panic. This is probably one of the worst and most unhelpful responses to give someone with anxiety. On Christmas Day I had an awful panic attack and ran into my parents room crying. They were both very nice about it and said I could come to them if I needed to but then my dad added ‘don’t panic next time’. I was so shocked (I’ve been suffering with anxiety over the same thing for about 8 years now but have been openly diagnosed for about 3 years) because I thought he would just understand WHY I panicked. People don’t choose to panic, there is a fight or flight response within your brain which tells you how to react to certain situations after a fear response has been conditioned. It isn’t something you can just turn off.
Do – try to understand their disorder. It’s important that the person knows you care about them and by educating yourself on what they’re struggling with plays a big part in how you can help them cope AND how you can help yourself cope. There are so many different ways you can educate yourself e.g http://www.mind.org.uk , various threads you can find on the internet, there are mental health youtubers (two good ones are rawsammi and Laura Lejeune).
Don’t – call them a NEGATIVE person! Very recently, I’ve heard someone who I was very close with (and knows what I’ve been dealing with the past few years) has been calling me a negative person and it upset me quite a lot. It’s incredibly difficult to be positive when you are constantly having to deal with and overcome irrational and negative thoughts. A lot of people have a chemical in balance which causes their mental illness, meaning they CAN’T be positive by choice. Mental illness means the sufferer isn’t going to be the most positive person in the world, don’t have a go at them for that. They want to be positive just as much as you want them to be.
Do – ask how you can help. This is important in the long term as there might be a situation where the person is helpless and so are you. Some ways you can help people is through breathing techniques (breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 5 seconds and breathe out for 6 seconds), relaxation techniques (tensing up your body and then letting it all go, loosening your shoulders) and other techniques or distractions that can help such as talking to them. For example, my friend helped me breathe when I was on a Ferris wheel once and began to panic and another time, my other friend and I did arts and crafts when I was having a panic attack to take my mind off it. Helpful techniques can vary from person to person, so it’s important that you ask!
Don’t – expect massive turnarounds. Recovery is a very slow process for anything, particularly mental illness. It’s easy for the person to get impatient with themselves for taking a while to recover (even though it’s very normal, it took me 2 years to get out of therapy and then I had a blip and I’m back in therapy again) and feeling pressured by their loved ones can make them feel like they’ve let a lot of people down. There are bound to be relapses and bad periods of time as that’s normal in the process of recovery so ensuring you stay patient whilst they’re in recovery is important.
Do – be proud of them! Pride can be SO motivating and you can see it on people’s faces. It also shows that you care about them and can also make it easier for the person to open up to you as they know you’re genuinely interested and there for them. Feeling proud when you see them making a step (little or big) in recovery is a million times better than getting frustrated when they have setbacks (reminder: setbacks are inevitable).
Don’t – guilt trip. This can be by making them do certain things or saying things that make them not feeling good enough or blame themselves for their mental illness. For example, my friend said to me a couple weeks ago that she finds it ‘too awkward’ to check up on me because of the stuff I’ve been dealing with recently. Often pushing people can be beneficial and have good intentions but DON’T make them feel worse than they already do for not being ready or up for doing something.
Do – be yourself! Don’t change how you act around this person because you’ve found out something new about them. You’re close with them for a reason. They can feel isolated and ‘different’ because you treat them differently and this also links back to feeling guilty over not being neurotypical.
Don’t – prioritise their needs over your own. Looking after yourself is the most important thing and there are going to be times when you’re not able to help the person! This isn’t your fault, you’re not a professional doctor and also have to focus on yourself. You are important.
I hope this post helps you somewhat relate to your loved one who’s struggling! I hope you all have a great rest of February.