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  • Writer's pictureFernanda Latorre

No one is their diagnosis

Do you say “I'm the flu” when you catch the flu? Or do you hear anyone say “I’m diabetes” if they have diabetes? We guess not.

In the same manner: You are not depressed, you have depression; You are not psychotic, you have psychosis; You are not bipolar, you have bipolar disorder, and so on.

Seek professional help. Don’t let stigma make you doubt yourself or feel shame. Mental health issues are not a sign of weakness, and they’re not something we could have kept under control. Self-judgment and stopping oneself from growing as a person are far more destructive and toxic than admitting we need help.

Take ownership over the healing process. Besides actively participating in the treatment, one could also learn more about their and other similar conditions and educate others about it.

Keep in mind is that every maladaptation in adult life has its precursor in the past. Mental health problems in many cases used to be adaptive behaviours that helped us survive emotionally as kids or adolescents in certain situations, and they have remained a part of our behavioural pattern. Yet, they no longer “work” well for us, and there’s nothing bad about that. It’s just the time for a change.

How to Be a Supportive Other

If your close friend, family member, or partner suffers from mental illness and you wish to support them, one of the first things you should do is learn about this illness.

Most Common Symptoms

Depression: Depression can often be recognized by its tell-tale “depressed mood” and “loss of interest in nearly any activity”. The most common symptoms include a low mood, sleep disorder (too much sleep or too little sleep), loss of appetite, sexual desire, or the eagerness to socialize.

However, depression can also come in its masked form. In such a scenario, physical symptoms are more prevalent, such as aches and pain that have no logical source. Also, in their subconscious intentions to “fight off” depressive symptoms, people might exhibit the opposite of depressed behaviour: put on too much makeup, wear colourful clothes, talk very loudly, etc. Among adolescents, depression quite often manifests in a desire to go out frequently, combined with excessive alcohol drinking and substance abuse.

Anxiety: Anxiety usually comes along with depression and manifests itself as an inexplicable, lingering fear. There are also phobias, which can be quite specific and involve extreme levels of fear, panic, and anxiety in contact with certain objects or related to certain situations.

Having this in mind, you can try to not take it personally when you’ve been blown off for some activity or meeting by a friend who’s overcoming mental health problems, as some symptoms of these illnesses may have affected their socializing and communicating habits. Instead, you can try to empathize and figure out an alternative way to approach them.

Psychosis: The state of psychosis is usually characterized by symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations, but it can be diagnosed in other circumstances too. Withdrawal, emotional flatness (which is different from depression), bizarre thoughts, mental blocks, loss of interest in social contact, strange perceptions (that are not yet hallucinations), strange experiences, and so on, can all be symptoms of a psychotic episode.

There are many other mental health issues to learn about, but for the purpose of showing how simple it can be to learn more about them, we’ve only listed the most prominent ones.

Practice Simple Presence

When someone close to you is going through hardship, sometimes all you can do for them is to be present. Maybe mindfully listen to them sharing their worries fears, hold their hand, or sit in silence.

Instead of interrupting the person you talk to, show them that you’re focused on them by repeating what they said or by summing up their words (“What you want to say by this is that you’ve been feeling blue for quite a while now?”).

You can also reflect on their words simply by stating that you understand them and by showing empathy or seeking clarification when something isn’t completely clear to you. Seeking clarification can also help the other side make things clearer to themselves.

Special Things You Can Do as a Partner or Close Family Member

Routine: We mention routines very often as the pillars of mental health. Even when all things are uncertain, managing to maintain one healthy routine can mean the world.

Speak about Feelings Openly: Often, if we share our feelings about the situation or the other person, regardless of their current state of being, we can play an important mirror for them and help them see their reflection.

Sharing our feelings can also encourage the other person to talk about their feelings too, which can bring people closer together. Sharing feelings enhance mutual trust and proximity and make us feel supported and safe.

Dealing with mental health issues is never easy, as they always involve and affect more than one person. Whatever the situation may be – there’s always something else to do. There is always a step to be made and room for improvement. After all, there’s something to be grateful for every day, and some mental illness survivors say they’re grateful even for the experience of the illness, as overcoming it made them stronger, more open, and more self-aware.

Source: Coping With Mental Illness: Guide by Intelligent Change

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