How to Help a Friend with Mental Illness
When you know someone with PTSD, it is kind of hard to know what they are really thinking about. Personally, I tend to shut people out and shut myself off completely from the world. When I first got diagnosed with PTSD, I was sleeping two to three hours a night and my nightmares got so bad that I wouldn’t go to sleep until maybe three of four in the morning. I was exhausted and my concentration was horrible.
I think the worst part of everything that was going on in my head was all of my memories came rushing back both good and bad. I could tell you something that happened almost 20 years ago (yes, I remember things from when I was 1). I even remembered fourth grade when before I didn’t know who my teacher was. What’s crazy is that I remember all of these memories but I still cannot for the life of me remember the stuff I learn in school (I’m just kidding, don’t tell my professors that).
All jokes aside, I wanted to give you some advice on ways to help someone with PTSD, depression or any mental illness. As someone who deals with the effects of PTSD and depression, there were times I wished someone would not necessarily have helped but made me feel like someone was there for me. I felt so alone, even if I wasn’t, and the voices in the back of my mind didn’t help. I pushed people away when I needed them the most, so I thought it would be nice to share, from the perspective of someone who battles a mental illness, ways that you can help your friends or family if they too suffer from a mental illness.
1.Give them Daily Love- I cannot stress this enough, one of my biggest challenges with having PTSD is not feeling like I belong or that anyone really wants me around. I can go months on end not talking to anyone if I feel like I being a burden. So give your loved one so reassurance that you are there for them and that you love them. This should be an everyday thing because one day we may seem fine but the next could be completely different. It honestly could just be a text message telling them to have a good day or a good night text. I personally, really do appreciate those thoughts because I don’t feel so alone then.
2. Give them their space when they ask- Sometimes, I have a hard time asking for space and end up giving myself a panic attack because of all the attention, when I was actually conscious about something being wrong, I would lock myself in my bedroom and stay in there for hours on end. Space is just a necessary thing for anyone but if you notice your friend or family member start tensing up or getting really antsy, usually that is a sign that they are uncomfortable and just need some space. Lately, my space has consisted of just getting up and leaving or putting my headphones on and playing my music loud enough to drown all my thoughts out. Don’t take offense when they leave or just shut you out, it’s really just because we need to protect ourselves.
3. Talk to them and ask what they need- This is a big one, I have had some pretty traumatic experiences that happened to me in the last few years and when my PTSD hit full on, I started getting memories from my past and they were really vivid. I couldn’t really explain it to anyone and would lash out whenever I felt uncomfortable or unsafe. The best way to talk to your loved one is to be calm, collected and expect to not get any detailed answers. Just talking to them will help tremendously and there are a lot of signs you can watch for; being antsy, avoiding eye contact, changing the subject, fidgeting with objects around them, In my case the faster I talk the more I am bothered. There are a lot of signs, you just have to be willing and patient enough for them to open up. It took me almost five months before I told my parents something was wrong because I was so focused on hiding it from everyone.
4. Do NOT make them feel worse- Having PTSD, I have so many thoughts and memories going through my head as it is and on top of it, I am dealing with school and two jobs so making me feel worse about myself is the best option. Telling us that it is all in our head, really makes us not want to open up to anyone and just push people away. I have had people tell me to go get more counseling or that I’m over exaggerating and honestly, it makes me feel like I would rather just keep what is going in to myself instead of sharing with someone how I am feeling. The bottom line is watch what you say, to anyone, because words hurt.
5. Accept that you will never fully understand- Sometimes it’s hard for people to truly understand what we are going through, in fact most of the time we can’t even explain what we are going through. The best thing you can do is show empathy not sympathy, feel for them instead of feeling sorry for them. I think that’s the hardest thing when I do talk to people about what I’m going through is that I see them feeling sorry for me and that’s the opposite of what I want.
I wanted to share this post because I want people to know and have awareness of the realities of mental illnesses. This day and age has taught people that mental illnesses aren’t real and that is an issue. We need to raise awareness and bring to attention the dangers of mental illnesses. I encourage you to talk to your loved ones, your friends, your coworkers, and to anyone about the importance of mental health and the letting them know that you are there.
Mental Health is a serious issue in the world, we need to stop tearing each other down and start building each other up. Quit making people feel horrible about themselves but instead show them that you actually care. Please do yourself and anyone fighting from a mental illness a favor and educate yourself. There are hundreds of ways to research different types of illnesses and in order to make the world a full of love instead of hate.