The five signs according to ChangeDirection.org are:
- Personality Change
- Poor Self-Care
Now, all of us have moments where we feel any of the above, but what differentiates a warning sign from someone just having a bad day is how it affects their energy. If it seems out of character for that person, and/or if the signs start showing up consistently, you’ll want to take notice. Mental illness compromises one’s sense of identity by contaminating it. It’s hard to put into words but I feel it as an anti-energy, some sort of force to suck life out of people (not just the person suffering but those around them). A conscientious realist or pessimist may argue his/her discouraging points, but there is a sense of energy behind it, even if combative or confrontational. But one who’s driven by inner pain seems to do so in a way that drains hope and drag down into apathy.
They weren’t kidding when they said that mental illnesses are contagious.
As with many other things in life, the first step in the right direction is to become aware of it. That’s why organizations like ChangeDirection.org is spreading word about signs.
So what do you do when you notice? Here are three quick tips:
- Put your guard up. Getting dragged down into the abyss together doesn’t do anybody service. When you recognize that it’s the illness speaking and not the real person, you rightfully stop believing everything they say/do for their face value. Maintain a healthy distance so that you can stay firmly on this side of the healthy/unhealthy divide so you can stay available to help.
- Be gentle. Even if they’re being snide or derogatory, fighting back in kind doesn’t help anyone. Remember that someone who’s suffering starts acting more like a child than adults. What a suffering child needs is a hug, not a rebuke. It may take some willpower to be kind to someone who’s not, but it’ll help if you can visualize the hurting child within.
- Listen. Ask them how they are feeling. Give them opportunities to open up by conveying the attitude of unconditional acceptance. Don’t force anything out of them, don’t call anything out. Just let them know that you care and you are ready to listen without judgment.
So knowing the signs is the start, it empowers you to takes these actions. The more people know the signs and what to do about them, the less stigma will be attached to the concept of mental health.
Mental illnesses are like common cold, even if you’re not perpetually “sick” we all have our days when we go through some temporary suffering, for whatever reasons. In an ideal world you’d feel free to take a sick day and rest, just like you do when you come down with flu. It’s our inability to recognize it, to see it for what it is, that’s making it worse. I don’t mean to trivialize the impact of mental illnesses, but when we start to understand it, when we remove some of its mystique, then we stop empowering it. We accept it as something we encounter in life and learn how to deal with it.
I believe in that outcome, it’s a vision we can realize in our life time. It was hard but now I’m grateful for the exposure I got. Now I feel more equipped to deal with it and help others do the same.