Wednesday, January 28, 2015

We've got something to talk about.

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Most people who have struggled with mental illness, either themselves or a loved one, will talk about "the stigma," the sense of shame that keeps us from seeking help, finding support or compassion.

There's a reason for that: we have spent millions of years learning to avoid illness. It's part of our primitive brain. I think most of us know that mental illness is not contagious (except for something like mad cow disease), but being around someone who is mentally unstable is scary.

Because they aren't thinking straight.

They are unpredictable.

Their ways of interacting with the world are out of whack.

To relate with them -- with us -- compassionately requires us to confront our fears and to move toward, instead of away from, the person who is in crisis.

For those of you who wonder how you can help someone with depression, anxiety disorder, OCD, bipolar disorder, borderline disorder, ADHD . . . or any of the many, many types of mental illness, here are some suggestions:

  • Send a quick note just saying you're thinking of them. Let them know they are not alone. 
  • Don't tell them to "get over it." If they could, you can bet your sweet patootie, they would.
  • Ask, "How's today going?" Today is a small enough breadth of time that it is not overwhelming.
  • Invite them out somewhere (unless they have agoraphobia).
  • Visit them.
  • Play a game together.
  • Go for a drive or walk together.
  • Bring a small gift - something from the dollar store, maybe.
  • Send them uplifting and funny jokes.
  • Make them a cup of tea.
  • Approach with compassionate curiosity, not judgment. (Refer to yesterday's blog post about relationship mindfulness.)
  • Ask how you can help.
  • Sometimes the best we can do is help someone we care about buy some time until they can get the help they need. Be with them.
Everyone's different, though, so feel free to improvise, keeping the principles of nonjudgment and compassion in mind. 

There are many, many resources to help with mental illness nowadays -- treatments, medications, therapies. Adding compassion to the mix can make a huge difference.


  1. Unfortunately for us the individual has kicked us out of their lives.
    then gets upset and rages when we do not show up to events. then kicks us out again. We aren't sure if they don't remember that they told us they want nothing to do with us (amongst other terrible and violent things said), or do they just lash out in anger and don't mean it at all?
    It's so hard to navigate. We are not psychologists, we are just trying to be there and support the person we care about - but we keep getting hurt by them also. It's tough.

    1. It is entirely possible that they have no recollection of cutting you off. Things said in the heat of an "excited" emotional state are often scrambled. Ironically, rejecting someone else can be a way of coping with fear of rejection. Finding balance in support them/protecting yourselves is really the challenge.

      There's actually a book about Borderline Personality Disorder called "I hate you -- Don't leave me!"


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