Co-Written by Michelle Douglas
I find it tragic that mental health is so often something we overlook. We pay attention to a broken leg, a heart condition, Parkinson's disease, even an allergy attack. When we become aware that someone is mentally ill, however, we work hard to pretend their illness isn't there or that it will go away if we just don't notice.
Mental illness can be treated. That is the good news. But the bad news is it won't go away just because we pretend it isn't there.
We have all felt the effects of mental illness. Statistically speaking, it is more likely for us to know someone suffering from mental illness than not. They won't always fit our preconceived image of what mental illness looks like. But there can still be warning signs for us to see.
Perhaps a coworker seems to live on a pendulum, swinging from withdrawn silence to extreme energy. Maybe a friend seems to act like an emotional vacuum, always needing support and never giving any in return. Family members might sometimes exhibit moments of self destruction.
If you find yourself observing these behaviors in those around you, that could be an indicator that they are suffering from a mental illness.
Just having a name for what is happening can be a relief. But what comes next? What are we to do when in the presence of mental illness?
We need to recognize that no one
chooses to be ill. We don't blame someone
for having pneumonia. Why do we blame
someone for being mentally ill?
First, we need to recognize that no one chooses to be ill. We don't blame someone for having pneumonia. Why do we blame someone for being mentally ill? If we approach mental problems the way we approach physical problems, assuring the sufferer there is no shame, no blame, we can all take a deep breath.
Second, we must do what we can to help the one suffering. Their needs will vary depending on the situation. Maybe they have already sought clinical treatment, or maybe they don't yet realize that they are ill. Either way, we shouldn't let their illness define them in our eyes. When we see a loved with a broken leg, we see a person with an injury. When we look at a loved one with mental illness, we should see more than their illness as well.
When it comes to mental illness, we can't expect that our offers of help will always be received. Some will appreciate an offer. Others will not. Indeed, many times mental illness can cause people to feel that they don't deserve help. Others will insist they don't need it, and they may even lash out. There are few easy answers in these situations.
Nevertheless, we can try to help the one who suffers, and thus those who live or work with the person. Whether their illness affects us directly or not, we must often be content with simply trying. If it is all we can do, it is better than nothing.
One last caution. We cannot become so caught up in helping others that we lose ourselves. Sometimes people don't want to be saved. In those cases, no one should be forced to walk on eggshells every day just to keep their job or live at home.
Like parents on a plane giving themselves oxygen before giving it to their children, we must first save ourselves to be of any help bto others.
Jean Loxley-Barnard has been a writer all her life and studied both sociology and psychology at George Washington University where she earned a B.A. Her company, The Shopper, Inc., encompasses all the Loxley-Barnard family publications - The Shopper Magazines and Doctor to Doctor Magazine. She has been in the advertising, consulting and publishing business for 38 years.
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