Here are 5 things we believe are absolutely vital to take care of our own mental health and help others in distress.
1. Speak up and encourage others to
One of the most dangerous things about depression is how it warps your view of the world. The way you think is heavily clouded and speaking to someone else can be like clearing the clouds away and seeing the blue sky if even for a short time. Left alone, or isolating yourself, it will be more of a struggle to shift your perspective and explore the thoughts and feelings troubling you in a safe and constructive way.
Sana called us when she was 14. She explained that she had been physically assaulted by her Uncle, and she was psychologically scarred to the point that she wanted to commit suicide. After speaking to her with compassion and empathy we were able to help her shift her perspective, acknowledging that the experience that she went through was horrendous but that it didn’t need to mean the end of her life altogether; that there is hope and she can find happiness again.
2. Be sensitive
When someone is disclosing something that makes them feel entirely vulnerable make sure to be extra sensitive. There have been many people who have plucked up all the courage that they have to speak about their issues only to be told that they are in their position because their Imaan (faith) is weak, or because they have sinned, or they are at fault in some way. Besides the fact that you may not know the whole situation, this is not constructive, and we must begin to change the way we communicate with people in distress. Equally, remember to be kind to yourself! We cannot stress enough how important it is to treat yourself with kindness and compassion.
Raihan spoke to us when he was 24. He felt like his life had spiralled out of control and he had secretly turned to alcohol as a way of coping with bereavement. He had disclosed his struggles to others before and feared being judged and shunned again. We helped him to explore the emotions and issues driving his unhealthy alcohol consumption and reassured him that it is never too late to get help.
3. Understand that each person’s experience is unique
For some people the worst thing you can say is that you ‘know how they feel’. Consider for a moment that you really may not understand, and how frustrating it would feel for them to hear from everyone they speak to that they are understood. When speaking to someone in distress be willing to learn about their experience, ask them questions about how they feel and why, knowing that their experience is different to your own and anyone else’s. Don’t compare their experience to the cousin who once had depression or the auntie who struggled with anxiety, or anyone else. Be there to learn about them and how you can help them in particular. Something that may have helped that cousin or auntie may actually cause even more distress for them.
Sara, who called us when struggling with depression, was told to exercise to improve her mood despite having a physical disability. How many times have you been given advice which is entirely misguided? Certainly, make suggestions but ask the individual you are speaking to what they feel would work for them.
4. Try not to be offended
Those in distress may act in ways that are hurtful, but most of the time this is not their intention. It is their way of coping and can be caused by their clouded perspective. They may withdraw, ignore you, become easily irritable or even aggressive, and whilst for the sake of your own mental health you should not simply accept poor treatment, try to recognise the signs that something more concerning is happening and encourage them to seek professional help. This may be a real test of patience on your part but the more empathetic and kind you are, the more likely it is that the individual will feel better or begin to open up about why they are acting in the ways they are. Remember that getting worked up and angry may only reinforce their negative view of themselves and the world, and that their actions may actually be a subconscious attempt to prove themselves right. This is very common, and the individual may not understand that they are doing this.
An example is a young teenage boy currently experiencing bullying at school. When he returns home every day he is aggressive and dismissive of his parents. He feels that no-one loves him or cares for him and he constantly tests his parent’s patience. When his parents respond in a positive loving way this helps him deal with his negative emotions and reassures him that he is loved and wanted, but an angry response reinforces his feelings that he is worthless and unloved.
5. Seek professional help and encourage others to
Understand that there is only so much that you can do as a listener and supporter. If someone’s state is not improving it is important that they seek professional help. The mind is a very complicated organ and often there is a deeper significance behind our thoughts and poor coping mechanisms. As a loved one or friend you are not a therapist. Be aware of how someone else’s state affects your own mental health. It is possible for you to be traumatized by hearing a firsthand account of someone who has experienced trauma (this is called secondary trauma), and it is also possible that you slip into a depressive state if you are constantly exposed to negativity and loss of hope. Be sure to recognize when things are getting too much for you and encourage them to seek professional help.
For example, imagine a young lady called Khadija. Khadija’s sister has disclosed to her that she is feeling suicidal after her recent divorce. She calls Khadija every day to express her feelings of deep sadness and despair, and Khadija feels drained every time the call ends. She feels ashamed that she feels relieved when the call comes to an end and feels like a bad sister. After reflecting on this however, she realises that her sister needs professional support and has encouraged her to get this, as well as seeking support herself to cope with the emotional pressure. This allows her to be even more supportive.
We hope these suggestions will be useful in taking care of your own mental health and helping others. Remember that MYH is here to take your call or respond to your live chat message from 4pm to 10pm every day, and you can email us at any time.