REACHING OUT AND OFFERING HELP
We’re here to help you help someone else! There are many suggestions for getting that process started here. Please do not be overwhelmed!
REMEMBER – no one, not even trained therapists, are perfect in responding to someone who is struggling!
If you are sincere, nonjudgmental, and supportive, that will go a very long way. You’ll be saying “I’ve Got You.”
- You don’t feel confident about where to start.
- You don’t want to imply something is “wrong” with someone or risk offending him/her.
- You believe that it’s not your place to interfere in someone else’s life.
- You’re afraid of the person who seems to need help.
- You’re afraid you’ll say something wrong.
- You fear losing a relationship by bringing up the possibility that the other person is struggling.
- You fear backlash from the person you are concerned about such as anger, defensiveness, or retribution.
- You have lot of guidance here at I’ve Got You!
- Think of yourself as providing potentially life-saving first aid.
- Just as you wouldn’t think it’s not your place to help a friend having a seizure, neither should you hesitate to help a friend struggling with a mental health disorder. It is a physiological disorder.
- If you find it too difficult or scary to intervene personally, ask someone else to step in! That is still helping.
- If you are sincere, nonjudgmental, and compassionate, you can’t make anything worse.
- Even though it may be difficult, you don’t want to regret not having intervened. That is the worst possible outcome for everyone.
The following responses can cause conversation to shut down and generate distrust. We’re trying to encourage talking and opening up!
1. Don't be preachy, bossy, or "the expert."
“You really need to chill.”
“Just put it in god’s hands.”
“Look, I’ve been there. I’m telling you that you need meds.”
2. Don’t be patronizing or dismissive or minimize their feelings.
“Cmon, it’s not that bad.”
“You seem fine.”
“Other people have it a lot worse.”
3. Don't give advice before asking first.
“Would you like some feedback from me?”
“When you’re ready, I have some ideas.”
4. Don’t shame, blame, or judge.
“You have to pull yourself together.”
“You shouldn’t have taken so much on at once.”
5. Don't second-guess.
“C’mon everyone feels that way sometimes. I’m sure you’re not actually ‘depressed.’”
6. Don't deflect or change the subject.
“I’ve only got a few minutes.”
“That sucks. So, what’s new at work?”
“Everyone feels that way sometimes. You’ll feel better tomorrow.”
7. DON'T FIGHT WITH SOMEONE IN CRISIS!
- Arguing with someone when they are already agitated or angry.
- If someone is agitated or angry, your job is always to keep yourself calm and help de-escalate the situation.
Stigma certainly plays a big role. Although times are changing, it is not yet common or easy for people to talk openly about their mental health to anyone – even very close friends and family. Many still do not understand that mental health disorders are like any other disorder of the body. Instead of responding this way, too often we respond as though the person has a flawed character.
Folks with mental health disorders are often very self-critical. If they are too ill to work, they are often embarrassed by what they perceive to be a lack of productivity. They see their peers seeming to function and progress in their lives and feel left behind. They measure themselves against others’ accomplishments and endeavors and feel they are failures.
FEAR OF DISMISSAL
Some who are struggling are afraid their condition will be minimized as something to “get over” or “deal with.” They are often told “It’s not that bad,” “Other people have it worse,” “That’s crazy,” “You don’t really mean that.” They fear they will be thought of as simply attention-seeing. Because many of us still don’t recognize the signs of mental health disorders or are afraid of helping we dismiss those who need it.
THEY DON'T WANT INSENSITIVE REPLIES
Many people can’t bear to receive a meaningless response like “Hope you feel better!” with no follow-up, or worse, no response at all. They don’t want hurtful responses like eye-rolls, sighs, “Put on your big girl pants,” or “Again?” And whatever their faith, they don’t need to hear “If you just believe, God’s got this.” It doesn’t help.
IT'S NOT ACCEPTABLE TO NEED HELP
People with mental health challenges are often given signals or told outright not to talk about it by the people closest to them – often from family members – and this is the worst wound of all. Some families still think having a member with a mental health disorder is shameful to the family. They are ashamed of the person’s struggles.
In some cultures, it is very difficult to talk about mental health. “Mental Health and Culture: Why the brave still stay silent and how we can start to change that” addresses this issue very well.
THE IMPACT OF GASLIGHTING
Some who are sick are subjected to gaslighting – being made to feel that what they are experiencing isn’t real. They are belittled or told they are tiresome. They are told they are irrational. This lack of understanding of mental health disorders can manifest in cruel and damaging ways that shut people who need help down.
THE DISORDER IS THE OBSTACLE
Having a mental health disorder gets in the way of asking for help. It can cause apathy, loss of self-esteem, exhaustion, social withdrawal, and paranoia – none of which is conducive to asking for help. For someone who is very depressed, just picking up a phone can literally be impossible. Some mental health disorders prevent people from recognizing they need help.
THEY DON'T WANT TO BE A BURDEN
Like many of us, people with mental health disorders don’t want to feel like a burden to others. They don’t want criticism or unsolicited advice. They certainly don’t want to be told they’re being overly dramatic or needy! They don’t want to be asked “Can’t you get over that yet?” They don’t want to feel that their attempts to reach out will be unwelcome.
FEAR OF REJECTION
Many people with mental health challenges have been rejected by friends, families, employers, roommates and others. They are terrified of further rejection or degradation. They are afraid if they put themselves out there and ask for help, it won’t be there or what they get back will make them feel worse. They are worried about the consequences they may face if they share their pain.
TIPS FOR HELPERS
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DO THIS ALONE!
- Talk to other friends or the family and share your concerns!
- Often, many people see a couple of signs, but a wider group of people together have seen many signs.
- Sharing and getting others’ input can be the difference between helping someone or having them fall between the cracks.
If you are not a family member, please involve the person’s family unless you have a very serious reason not to.
- As someone once said to me, “To the family, ignorance is NOT bliss. It is a delayed tragedy.”
- Most often family (husband, wife, parents, siblings, etc.) will take on the responsibility for helping their family member navigate services and monitor his/her wellbeing over time.
Consult a therapist yourself
Discussing your concerns about someone with a professional can be a tremendous relief. You can gain a better understanding of the other person’s experience and get support for yours.