Unspoken Conversations are the topics that are often swept under the carpet, whispered amongst the closest of friends and bitched about by many. I want to create awareness about difficult things that people face in life; grief, mental health, money, illnesses, family troubles, relationship difficulties and putting yourself first. I want to tell the truth about things that really matter.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Speaking to those suffering from a mental health illness.


So you've just asked someone "how are you?" and they have replied  "I'm actually really struggling at the moment with ...... *insert Anxiety and/or Depression*..what on Earth do you say?

OR you've noticed that one of your friends has dropped off the face of the (Facebook) earth when they are usually liking and commenting on everything, and the only thing that they seem to post of late is quotes from sad songs, or comments that just don't sit well in your belly.

OR one of your friends seems to be avoiding you. Whenever you ask them to come out they make up an excuse or they bail last minute. They won't reply to your text messages and you have a funny feeling that something isn't quite right...


How do you approach the situation and what on earth do you say?

I know that it's something that I still struggle with, even though I have been through both Depression and Anxiety myself.

I know that my heart melts when I hear that someone who I care about (or anyone really) is suffering from a mental health illness. 

My first instinct is to HUG them.

I just want to wrap them up in cotton wool and to text them every 5 minutes to let them know that I love them and care about them and to let them know that there's light at the end of the tunnel and to hang in there.

But is this the right thing to do?

It seems like such a fine line between wrapping the person up in cotton wool and being overly protective and being too in their face and not giving them enough space to work through their emotions and completely backing off because you're unsure of what to say and do, and you're scared that you might say the wrong thing.

Please please please let me tell you THAT SILENCE IS THE MOST HURTFUL THING. Please do NOT turn your back on your friend or family member while they are unwell. I know it's difficult being around someone who is down. I know it's difficult to feel like you are making ALL of the effort with nothing in return and I know that it's difficult trying to help someone through their problems when you have problems of your own, but PLEASE, I promise you that it'll be worth sticking it out with your friend. Let's face it, it is easier being around someone when they are happy, fun and loving life, but part of being a TRUE friend is also being there when they are sad, struggling and needing a shoulder to cry on.


The person who is unwell is still your father, mother, sister, friend, or work colleague, he or she is just going through a difficult patch. They want to know that you are there for them, that you love them, that you accept that they are not well at the moment and that that's okay, and that you will love them no matter what. 

They want to know that the way you view them DOES NOT CHANGE because they are suffering from a mental health issue.

In fact, you learn to appreciate the person more, and it shows you just how much you love them and how much you value their health and you just want them to feel like themselves again.


So here's some tips for things to say to people who are going through a rough patch with a mental health illness:
  • Try not to make every conversation about their Depression/Anxiety. I know it's soooo easy to fall into the trap to ask them "how are you?" and "how are you feeling" because you desperately want to know that they are okay, but it means that the person is constantly having to speak (and be reminded) of what they are going through.

  • I know it's hard, but try to treat them as normal as possible. They are probably feeling so far from their "normal self" that they are confused, worried and scared. They are probably just looking for some kind of normality in their life. Try to speak to them how you normally would. Crack jokes, talk about old times, invite them to events and offer to pick them up and drop them off. 

  • Let them know that it's OKAY to suffer from a mental health issue. Name the illness, as the more we use the words, the less scary they become and the more accepted that they feel. "So I've heard you are suffering from Depression. Did you know that 1 in 3 people suffer from Depression. It's NOT something that you should be ashamed of".


  • Let them know in some way or another that it isn't going to be forever. "I know that you're feeling unwell at the moment, but with a little help, we'll get there, it'll just take some time, don't be too harsh on yourself".

  • Ask them if they have spoken to anyone else about how they are feeling. If you are the only one, then it's important that you suggest booking a doctors appointment, and even book it for them and offer to go with them. Sometimes the person is feeling so overwhelmed that even making a doctors appointment is scary.

  • Ask the person if they are speaking to a psychologist/counselor. I STRONGLY recommend that everyone speaks to a professional about how they are feeling. Counselors and Psychologists can provide the person with strategies to try and divert their thoughts. They will try to work out what might be causing their Anxiety/stress and Depression. You may need to take the lead and look up some psychologists close to where your friend/family member lives or ask around to know if someone else knows a great Psychologist. You can also speak to your doctor about a Mental Health Plan if you live in Australia (where the first 6-10 sessions are free).
 For more information, click here.

  • It's okay not to talk. Infact, the person might not be up for talking.They might just be looking for some company. Watch a movie with them, go for a walk with their dog, go and have a massage or go and see a movie. Choosing tasks that don't require a lot of talking, but which encourage the person to leave the house, brings them back to some kind of normality and are EXTREMELY helpful (although the person MAY not be too convinced at first). I promise that it'll be worth coaxing them to do it. They'll feel MUCH better after!

To the amazing people in my life last year, thank you for being so supportive. I love you.

  • If the person opens up to you, try to encourage them to continue speaking. It's okay if you don't know what to say, sometimes the person just wants to get their thoughts out of their head. Sometimes the person just needs a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen to them. Just giving them a hug, touching their hand, playing with their hair, or using body language that makes them feel like you are engaged with them and want to listen, helps.

  • If the person starts to talk about suicide, take it seriously. I know this is a difficult conversation to have, but ask them if they have actually thought of a plan to commit suicide. They may not open up to you and they may NOT be entirely truthful but PLEASE, if they even suggest suicide, you need to tell someone and get them help ASAP. 
 Who to call if your friend is speaking about suicide?

Just remember, it's still your friend, family member, work colleague and partner, THEIR illness WON'T last forever. They are just going through a difficult patch. It's important to let them know how much you love them, that they are supported and that you'll DO ANYTHING to help them.

Treat them how you would like to be treated :)

Look after yourself and those around you,

Kirsty xxxx

Other useful websites that I have found:

Out of the Shadows 
The Black Dog Institute 


Janna Renee said...

I think we all forget that seeing someone hurt or depressed is not a sign of weakness, but an unyielding struggle. I have never had depression, but I do get anxiety at times. Great post girl!

Kirsty Arnold said...

I totally agree Janna. It's just like any other illness. You're not weak if you have cancer, or diabetes or a mental health illness. Sometimes these things just happen, and as unfortunate as they may be, you learn so MUCH through the experience and you have a greater appreciation for life and the people in it :) xx