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Helping Someone With a Mental Illness

How to show support and compassion to someone with mental illness.

I’m sure many of you watched as the country paid tribute to those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001. I was humbled reading the stories in the newspaper and watching specials on TV about those who lived through the days, weeks and years following the attack on the World Trade Center.

One of the interviews I watched was a man who worked for four months on a demolition crew charged with clearing out debris. This man talked about how hard it was when they would find human remains while removing large pieces of cement and wreckage. One of the comments that struck me during his interview was how this man described his effort to hide his because he didn’t want anyone to know about it. I thought to myself, “How sad that this man felt he needed to hide his PTSD.” Why would he feel that way?

Recently, a good friend of mine was diagnosed with panic disorder. After suffering in silence for many months, she finally opened up to a good mutual friend and found a doctor that took her symptoms seriously. She was put on medication to help with her panic attacks and lessen her anxiety and paranoia. I had the chance to sit down and talk with her about her experience and she expressed the same feelings as the demolition worker did—she didn’t want anyone to know about her panic disorder.

One of the reasons people don’t open up about their mental health issues is because they do not want anyone to think they are crazy or incompetent. There seems to be this underlying feeling that people with mental health issues are treated differently than those with physical health issues.

The truth is, when we get the flu there is no reason to hide that condition because our society accepts physical illness without question. In fact, you will probably get a good neighbor to bring you some homemade soup. However, when someone is diagnosed with a mental illness like PTSD, anxiety or , where is the soup? The problem is we know how to help someone with a physical illness, but what do we do for someone suffering from a mental illness?

Here are some suggestions to help someone with a mental illness:

  • Educate yourself on their conditions so you understand the cause, signs, symptoms and treatment.
  • Accept that they have a legitimate illness and be understanding.
  • Encourage them to seek professional help and take any prescribed medication.
  • Provide practical support like making dinner, helping to do chores around the house or running errands.
  • Encourage them to be physically active.
  • Plan activities that are appropriate with their progression through their illness. Don’t plan big activities too soon.
  • Take advantage of support groups to help you cope with the mental illness.

Luckily, more and more people are talking about their struggles with mental health and this is helping spread the word that support is available. As neighbors, families, community members, co-workers and human beings, we all need to be compassionate and understanding about mental health so that people won’t be ashamed or fearful of people finding out.

Mary Lou September 24, 2011 at 06:07 PM
More support groups, and more education like this article.

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