In my last article (entitled ‘Maybe it’s all in your head’), I went into detail surrounding common naïve statements and ‘advice’ that are often provided from friends, colleagues and family members of those who suffer from a psychiatric disease. These diseases can range from unipolar and bipolar depression, to schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Complications can arise immediately due to many of us not being fully aware of what could be considered insensitive – I think we have all probably made this mistake at least once in our lifetime. Because of this, our intended support can be misconstrued, resulting in the worsening of the situation. Providing support and showing compassion, kindness, and empathy all depends on your ability to SHOW rather than TELL. Thus here, I want to discuss different techniques we can all employ to help provide support to our loved ones.
“Is there something that I can do for you?”
This removes the imposing approach out of the equation. You are showing genuine care without being invasive. Your empathy and concern will be seen clearly, despite the likelihood that you will receive a ‘no’ in response. However, never register this as an automatic negative. From first hand experience, when someone has asked me this question, it helped me more than I initially realized. I was able to re-evaluate. I began to understand that people do indeed care about me. However, if he/she asks you to sit through the new Transformers movie, or file a tax return… my apologies.
“What do you think could help you feel better?”
This may not be obvious, but upon self-reflection, they may identify something they really want to do. Whether that is to go for a meal or to travel. I appreciate the former may be far more acquirable than the latter. However, this can link in with the previous point. It may not be initially obvious to someone suffering that a person can be of assistance. Subtle suggestions regarding healthy eating and exercise, alongside sufficient sleep can be helpful, but avoid pushiness. If you can highlight what they enjoy, or what could be of benefit, that is how you may be able to contribute.
Talk and share
If someone initially doesn’t open up to you, perhaps begin by opening up to them. Firstly, this shows that you clearly care enough to talk about your own personal issues. Further, it may help highlight that they are not alone when it comes to emotional difficulties. The majority of us would have had a skeleton in the closet at some time or another. Being able to open yourself up may be the initial catalyst that they need to start doing the same. The first time I spoke to a friend about my depression, it was primarily down to the fact they opened up to me about a failed relationship, and their sense of worthlessness. We both leaned onto one another, supporting and hoisting each other up during one of the most difficult times in our respective lives.
Sometimes, the best thing to do is to say nothing. Yes, silence is uncomfortable. We always want to fill potentially awkward silences with conversation, even if it’s about the weather. But saying nothing, and just listening… that can be the best response you can provide, and sometimes… the most appropriate. It can be the best way to connect with someone that we love. Just providing someone with our utmost attention. It is basic, and yet so powerful. Just take it all in. Care about it. Most of the time caring about it is far more important than understanding it.
In the end, if you are not supporting the people around you, then what are you doing? Leave the advice to the experts, but be there for those you love. I used to think that by masking my struggles with silence, that they might miraculously disappear. For me, suffering with a psychiatric illness… it’s like drowning. Except, whilst you suffocate, you can see everyone else around you still breathing.
Silence is our worst and greatest response. The silence of someone suffering is the most powerful of screams. However, the silence of a friend, who provides their care and attention with the utmost sincerity and authenticity; this may just be the best thing you can do to help.