*Disclaimer: This is not professional advice, it is based on my personal experience. This article should not be taken in the substitute of professional advice and guidance. Should you have any health, medical, or disability questions or concerns, please consult a physician or other health care professional. WM makes no claims to the accuracy of the professional resources linked at the bottom of the article.*
When someone breaks their leg we know what to say, we know what to do, we know how to act. “I hope you feel better soon!” “Do you need someone to cook or clean for you?” “Do you have a ride to the doctor?” We follow up, not just because we care, but because we’ve been taught how to care.
Through school, childhood experience, and personal experience, we’ve learned how to tend to those struggling with their physical health. This is referring to certain illnesses (ex: the flu) and physical issues (ex: a broken arm) and does not encompass physical disabilities and stigmatized illness (like STIs, HIV/AIDS, etc). We aren’t taught how to ask, inquire, or care for a person’s mental health, despite the fact that in the US nearly half of adults will experience mental health issues in their lifetime.
When someone is experiencing a low in their mental health we are silent. We think that because we don’t know the perfect thing to say that we should say nothing. I can tell you from my experience with anxiety, depression, and PTSD that I have never once needed my friends to be my doctors, I’ve needed them to be my friends. I’ve needed support, not guidance. You don’t need to have all the solutions to aide someone. You don’t need to “fix” someone.
I’m fortunate to be in a relationship now with a very grounding foundation. I’m also fortunate that I have the ability to workout every day. For me, those two things are better than the world’s best medication. However, there have been several times in my life where I didn’t have those things and was having anxiety attacks nearly every week. Or times in my life that emotion-focused coping mechanisms were not enough to support me.
I can so vividly remember the first time I had an anxiety attack and I wasn’t alone. It was a Saturday night, behind a group of apartments on my college campus. Someone I didn’t know found me as I was doubled over and gasping to breathe. All she did was put her hand gently on my back and say “It’s okay, I’m going to stay with you”. And she did. She walked me home and I still don’t know who she was.
I’m not advocating that you begin touching strangers without their permission, but I am suggesting you reach out to those who may need help. It made all the difference in the world. She didn’t try to fix me, she didn’t try to make it stop, she just let me know I wasn’t alone. I truly think that is the best thing you can do for someone going through the roughest moments in their mental health. Just tell them that you are there and that they aren’t alone.
We don’t need you to have the perfect sentence to make the difference. We just need you. Somethings you can say to someone needing support:
“I’m here for you.”
“Would you like me come over and make dinner for you?”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“I’m checking in to let you know that I care about you and I’m here for you.”
“What can I do for you?”
“If you just need company I can come and sit with you.”
“Do you want someone to go to the doctor with you?”
“How are you feeling?”
Professional sites offering more information and options:
A final note: mental healthcare is still very inaccessible for many people. It’s difficult to see quality doctors, medications are expensive. Look into the leaders you vote for an ensure that improving the mental health system is important to them. Stay up to date on new policies. Look at what you can do in your community to help. If you shop using Amazon navigate to Your Account > Change Your Charity and select a charity that supports access to mental healthcare. Look at what the people around you need every day.
Pennies become dollars. The small things you do every day to support those around you will have lasting results.