One of the first things mentally ill people will hear from their friends, family or online is that is absolutely okay to reach out and ask for help. The phrase “It’s okay to not be okay” gets thrown around like candy at a carnival and people who don’t suffer from mental illness themselves, or those who haven’t quite grasped the severity of it yet, seem to think that it is literally that easy to just go out and get help and then BOOM all of a sudden you’re feeling better.
Truth is, most of the time that is not the case and the above scenario is more utopia than reality. Because in reality people with a mental illness often do try to reach out and seek help, but a lot of times they are met with stigma, heavy criticism and/or scorn. Which in return then leaves the person asking themselves why did they even bother reaching out in the first place.
Yes, therapy and counselling are amazing in their own right and they can truly help a person get better. But often enough finding the right therapist or counselor isn’t as easy as it is often made out to be because even in this profession you will be met with a plethora of people who simply lack empathy or professionalism for that matter.
I remember very clearly seeing a psychiatrist for the first time in my life. It was after I had suffered numerous mental breakdowns at my workplace and had been home-bound for almost a month or so already. After speaking to my GP, who was very understanding of my situation, she recommend I see a psychiatrist to be further assessed and get further help. Now, being me I had already looked up some reviews of this person I was going to see and sadly most of them weren’t great. Nevertheless I still decided to go, because as the old saying goes “Never judge a book by its cover” – Just because some people had bad experiences with this person that didn’t automatically mean that that would be applicable for me as well. So I decided to give him a chance and went to his practice. When I finally got to see this psychiatrist I was immediately met with coldness and look of judgement on his eyes, I felt uncomfortable after only a minute of being in his office. He asked me what was wrong with me. I told him that I didn’t know and tried to explain how I felt most of the time, how work was affecting me, how often I didn’t have any energy left to do even the most basic of things. I poured my heart out to him in the hopes of finding something that would be able to help me. After I had finished talking I was met with the most appalling look anyone could have given me. He looked me in the eye and simply said “You’re just lazy, I mean look at you…” – He then proceeded to write me a prescription for some antidepressants, without even bothering to explain them to me or discuss a dosage or anything.
I left his office crying and then went home and cried some more. I felt so let down and disappointed. I felt like I was in the wrong when I tried to reach out and seek help. I felt like yes, maybe this was just all my fault, I didn’t want to exist anymore.
This incident, which by the way happened after I had already been diagnosed, was just one of many times when I questioned whether or not it was even worth to talk to anyone about my mental illness. Numerous times people I had considered friends would tell me to “stop being so sad all the time” or to just do this and that and “be positive” about things when all I wanted to do was throw myself in front of the next car coming my way.
I think a lot of the times when a mentally ill person opens up to someone about their feelings, this other person feels in one way or another obliged to offer advice or immediately help their friend. Truth is, often that’s just not possible and most of the times that’s not what we want either. Sometimes all we need is to be heard, to be able to vent and express our feelings without judgement. To simply let it all out. A lot of people don’t understand this. When a mentally ill person comes to you and opens up about how they feel, chances are that it already took them a lot of courage to do so and they just need an outlet for their feelings because often they have already held them in for so long.
Here are some things that, among others, have been said to me when all I wanted to do was express how I felt:
- “Just snap out of it, think positive!”
- “There’s people who have it so much worse than you, so you should be grateful!”
- “It’s all in your head”
- “Stop being so sad, you’re dragging me down too”
- “Life isn’t fair”
- “You don’t look anxious/depressed/etc.”
- “Have you tried xyz?”
- “How can you be depressed when you have xyz?”
- “You should get out more”
That’s just a few examples, I am sure many of you have heard similar if not worse things before. They don’t help, if anything, all they do is make us feel worse. If you want to be helpful to a person with a mental illness all you have to do is listen. Listen and show empathy. We know you can’t fix all of our problems and it is not your job to do so, but the least you can do is listen. In a world where there is so much stigma surrounding mental illness and where it is so hard to open up to someone to begin with, sometimes all we need is the freedom to express ourselves in a safe space.
And yes, I understand that sometimes you might not be able to help or have the mental capacity to do so and that’s totally fine. But please have the decency to tell the other person that you might not be in a position to help them at the moment or point them in a direction towards someone who might be able to. You don’t have to solve all of our problems, you just have to show that you care. That’s sometimes all it takes.
Fellow mentally ill friends, have you ever experienced these things? What are some of the things that have been said to you that weren’t necessarily helpful? Let me know in the comments!