18 June 2014

Mental Health - how to help when someone you love is suffering

| Emily Morris
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Catching up with a group of close girlfriends for dinner last week, conversation turned to mental health. As we talked about our experiences and thoughts, the tone was gentle and understanding, the content frank.

It occurred to me a few days later just what an extensive web is spun by mental health issues. From four of us we all had experience of depression and in some instances more complicated or long term issues. Not just ‘I know someone who suffers with that’ but all with either someone we love or our own personal stories.

On campus at University I notice flyers and posters everywhere I turn for a number of services available to students suffering with depression and anxiety – services that weren’t available (or certainly not advertised) twenty years ago when I was last there. But, the biggest change I have noticed in that time is that we / people seem a bit less concerned and wary of talking about personal struggles with mental health. It’s not a conversation as free as ‘I’m diabetic/asthmatic/partially deaf’, but fear in sharing is I think shrinking – slowly.

With all this in mind, I left dinner last week after listening to a good friend share her own current struggles wondering what I could do to help. What does she need? What words will soothe? What will hurt?

It made me wonder if people would share more if their audience (for want of a better word) better versed in how to support mental health issues. Would people feel more comfortable asking if they knew more about how to best offer support if needed?

So, I went to Blueyonder to see what guidelines they have for supporting someone with depression and/or anxiety and this is what they said:

Things you can do to help someone with depression or anxiety:

  • Let the person know if you’ve noticed a change in their behaviour.
  • Spend time talking with the person about their experiences and let them know that you’re there to listen without being judgmental.
  • Suggest the person see a doctor or health professional and/or help them to make an appointment.
  • Offer to go with the person to the doctor or health professional.
  • Help the person to find information about depression and anxiety from a website or library.
  • Encourage the person to try to get enough sleep, exercise and eat healthy food.
  • Discourage the person from using alcohol or other drugs to feel better.
  • Encourage friends and family members to invite the person out and keep in touch, but don’t pressure the person to participate in activities.
  • Encourage the person to face their fears with support from their doctor/psychologist.

It would be unhelpful to:

  • put pressure on the person by telling them to ‘snap out of it’ or ‘get their act together’
  • stay away or avoid them
  • tell them they just need to stay busy or get out more
  • pressure them to party more or wipe out how they’re feeling with drugs and alcohol.

This forced me to reflect on my own behaviour. If I am honest with myself I have pleaded with someone to snap out of it, or stayed away or pushed someone to ‘just stay busy’. For my own comfort and desire for everything to be ‘normal’ and easy again I have sought a quick answer – pleaded for them to ‘just get on with it’. This doesn’t make me proud now after nearly 20 years supporting a family member through bipolar disorder and depression. I know it isn’t something she can snap out of. Medication helps her and the more gentle I am and sensitive to the reality of her condition, the more support I can truly offer.

I am still wondering how to best help my friend and suspect that just being there is going to be key. I do however recall a note that I saw on that font of knowledge otherwise known as facebook, which said:

‘One awesome thing about Eeyore is that even though he is basically depressed, he still gets invited to participate in adventures and shenanigans with all of his friends. And they never expect him to pretend to feel happy, they just love him anyway, and they never leave him behind or ask him to change.’

I’m not entirely sure of the main over-riding point of this one this week, but I was really touched by just how intrinsic mental health issues are in all of our lives. That brain of ours which is so fabulous and clever can be so cruel at the same time. And I can’t help but wonder if there are others out there who would like to know more about how to really help a loved one who may be suffering.

Emily Morris is a local writer, mother of three and Canberra girl. She moved overseas for 12 years vowing never to live in the City again, but time and a family made her realise just what a gem of a place it is. She lured her English husband here with the promise of good coffee and Aussie Rules footy.

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it’s ‘beyond blue’, emily… and the blackdog institute [http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/] is also great and can undertake assessments with a gp referral, which can be very useful as gp’s generally can’t make a diagnosis, and access to independent psychiatric care is very hard to come by (months from referral to first appointment) and the act’s service is of course prioritised to the severe cases.

asking someone, ‘are you ok?’ is a good start, but it has to be a genuine question followed up with genuine listening. also, sufferers of mental health conditions can often not actually know what they need. so don’t expect that.

but a good article, thanks.

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