May is Mental Health Awareness Month: These tips can be helpful:
For professionals and family/friends
1. Adopt a holistic view of mental illness, believing that it is a journey of growth rather than dealing with people who are damaged goods. Your attitudes and beliefs make a world of difference.
2. Deal with the person inside, their potential, the possible miracle, not what you see and hear.
3. Understand that labels and judgments hurt beyond belief. They can either kill the person’s spirit or sometimes the will to live at all.
4. Accept that clients may not be telling the truth for good reasons — because we are put on the defensive, because we don’t remember what happened, because we are too mortified ourselves about the truth, because the system often doesn’t listen to us and because we sometimes try to please others by putting on a good face.
5. Be sure you are there for support, not the “fixer.”
6. Learn active listening skills and use it as if your life depended upon it, knowing that clients desperately need to feel understood and validated.
7. Give us hope that we can be as well as possible.
8. Go easy on advice, but help us be more responsible for our own healing. Recognize that those in front of you often fight Herculean battles.
9. Educate us for recovery and encourage us about that, adapted to what we can do at the time without becoming overwhelmed. Sometimes simple things can make a difference.
10. Work consciously on your own inner journey. How can we become more whole if you are not? Your level of consciousness matters immensely. Sometimes it is the presence of a high-functioning helper who is capable of lifting us up. The light within you acts like a tuning fork for all who come your way. Never underestimate the fact that one effective professional or ordinary person can make a huge difference in our coping skills and recovery.
For those who suffer:
1. Adopt a holistic view of the illness. Believe that you can be as well as possible, and act “as if” you are working on that even if you don’t feel that way.
2. Get connected to at least two sources that represent support, whether church, mental-health professionals, community and friends. Build a support network of positive people.
3. Set the intention to be as well as you can be. Intention is invaluable, even if results don’t manifest immediately. Everything you do, such as diet, exercise, support, makes a difference. Don’t expect miracles, but look for the small and large ones that can occur.
4. Be relentless in seeking and asking for help. Ask consciously, “How can I help myself?”
5. Reframe your experience, looking for gifts beneath the pain, the heroism you display, the tough but valuable path that may be part of your lot. Maybe there are spiritual lessons; maybe you have been called to endure a “dark night of the soul.”
6. Learn to be your own health-care advocate, finding the “right” medication seeking follow-up services, insisting upon humane and helpful treatment, but remember that good manners matter when approaching the system.
7. Avoid dependency and passivity, recognizing that the system is often geared to the opposite.
8. Try to tell the truth without being a pain in the neck. (See #4 under “professionals.”)
9. If overwhelmed by the recovery process or the illness itself, pull the mental switch that allows you to take a day or several to “take a vacation from your problems.” Then do all the helpful things that give you pleasure during that time, however small. Such action can make the difference once you return from “vacation.”
10. Never give up. If you have temporarily lost hope, recognize that it can be created again and again. Reach for the help that can keep you going. Be proud of how you get up once more, or even daily how you keep going, of how you keep fighting the good fight. Claim your victories, large and small, if only to and for yourself, but try to find a listening ear.