‘What mental health needs is more sunlight, candor and more unashamed conversations.’ Glenn Close
I have taken long to write on this topic. It is not an easy one. It affects many of us, whether as a personal struggle or knowing someone who is suffering from mental illness. I strongly believe that this topic should be discussed as often as possible to remove any stigma associated with it.
Recently, we witnessed a historic moment when the four-time tennis Grand Slam tournament winner, Naomi Osaka, withdrew from the French Open due to mental health issues. While there was negative reaction in view of her action by some, others lauded her. In my opinion, her action was positive as it signifies a step towards self-care.
Effects of mental illness do not always end positively. This week, a middle-aged female doctor in Kenya, who was pursuing her Masters in medicine, committed suicide due to depression. There are growing cases of suicide due to mental illnesses. The covid-19 pandemic has also brought many of these cases to the fore.
The people going through such illnesses feel like they are losing their minds. Causes of the illnesses could be as a result of loneliness, difficult working conditions, substance abuse, unemployment, long-term stress, losing someone, poverty or debt, discrimination, domestic abuse, low-self esteem, among others.
In the past, we rarely saw much talk about such cases maybe because we had limited information. There was also stigma associated with mental illness. In my country for example, we had one main health facility for years that handled extreme mental cases that could not be handled by other health facilities or the community. With time, we have seen a growing number of health facilities giving psycho-social support to patients.
Fast forward. Great strides have been made in creating awareness to help individuals, families and communities to identify issues and seek the necessary help. We have also come to learn of other mental conditions that could have easily been dismissed as someone’s bad character. Mental conditions include bipolar (mood disorder), anxiety disorder, depression, psychotic disorder e.g. schizophrenia, eating disorder, trauma-related disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder among others.
Oh how we have misunderstood these conditions. But there is hope and the purpose of this piece is to enlighten you on how to support your loved one, whether family member or friend.
I have a loved one who has been suffering from bipolar. I only got to learn about this assessment much later as we used to assume that he was an argumentative person that he was not understood more often than not. He is intense – in his thoughts and speech. Sadly, because he was not understood and things were not working out as per his plan, he chose a life of isolation. He found his own coping mechanisms, much of which he does not speak of.
This gentleman is brilliant in his own right. His condition however has impacted the meaningful activities he can engage in. He experiences insomnia, racing thoughts (at times suicidal), taking crazy risks, gets distracted easily and refusal to seek treatment in the past.
If his family and friends had understood his condition, it probably would have been easier to manage or handle him. Do not get me wrong. I am not putting blame on these people. They did not know any better. I am glad to say that he has opted to take road to recovery.
Family members go through various issues as they seek to support those they love through these illnesses. The issues include frustration, care fatigue, guilt, conflict due to different ideas people may have on managing treatment and much more.
How can family members or friends support their loved ones going through mental issues?
1. Be sensitive and alive to the warning signs e.g dysfunction at work, eating disorders or withdrawal from social activities. These symptoms do not necessarily mean mental illness but changes could mean that the signs should not be ignored. Read the signs.
2. Show that you love and care your loved one. Voice these feelings.
3. Talk to your loved one about their condition. Listen patiently, reminding them that taking a step to seek help is indeed a step in the right direction, portraying strength.
4. Assist your loved one in looking for treatment or support. Accompany them, if possible, to see a health care practitioner to understand treatment involved and support needed.
5. Invite your loved one to your events or plans, even if they fail to show up. It shows you still have them in mind.
6. Treat your loved one with respect and empathy.
7. Stop worrying about what society will think about your family when they discover the mental condition. They will adjust.
8. Take time to educate others on mental health so that they can understand the issues, and thereby not mistreat or discriminate against those ailing.
9. If you are giving care to an affected loved one, seek emotional support to work through your emotions. Take time to learn about mental health.
10. Lastly, if your loved one has suicidal thoughts, kindly get help as soon as possible.
The Bible includes people who underwent either depression or mental anguish e.g. David, Jeremiah, Moses. They took comfort in God’s presence and assurances. Pray for your loved ones.
- Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. 1 Peter 5.7
- Pray that the peace of God, which transcends understanding, will guard their hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4.7
- Do not fear, for God is with them; do not be dismayed, for He is their God. Isaiah 41.10
Let’s keep talking about Mental Health.
‘If we start being honest about our pain, our anger, and shortcomings instead of pretending they do not exist, then maybe we’ll leave this world a better place than we found it.’ Russell Wilson