Posted by Dârini Vedarattiname, Club Rotaract de l’île de Montréal
By Dârini Vedarattiname, Club Rotaract de l'île de Montréal
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Back in 2016, I welcomed PSTD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) into my life. That new friend settled in with two sidekicks: Anxiety Disorder and Depression. It took me about three years to learn to live with it. Here are a few tips from my humble experience of what to do and not do when interacting with someone facing mental health struggles.
1. Listen
Mental Health struggles are overwhelming. Everyone will have different needs to help them cope, may it be to share their thoughts through dialogue and/or written word, to take some time for themselves to calm down, or to seek professional help and knowledge around their specific mental health issue. Empathy will help figure out how to best show support.
2. Show Support Through Simple Actions
Words may not be the smoothest way to show support, especially when it is so easy to slip into misunderstandings. Assistance can take multiple forms, including sitting silently next to each other for company, lightening one’s workload, facilitating communications between the person and their circle, sending baked goods, etc. Small attentions can go a long way to show that you are here for them.
3. Give Some Space
Nothing is the same. One may not even know if things are ever going to be the same. Not being able to meet usual expectations (even one’s own) will trigger overwhelming guilt. Being supportive means allowing one the space they need to figure things out on their own, at their pace. Loved ones cannot always be there to fight one’s battles. 
4. Be Patient
Do not give up on someone facing mental health issues. It will take time to learn to tame their new reality. The progress is never linear, there will be setbacks (and discouragement) along the way. Time passing and social etiquette are the last thing on one’s mind when their prerogative is to survive the day.
5. Have Faith
A simple “I believe in you” or “You’ll go places once you’ve overcome this” can go a long way. When one does not believe they have the strength to carry on, having a loved one as their best cheerleader can be incredibly helpful in not giving up the fight.
1. Practice Gaslighting
This is perhaps the most dangerous slope for people interacting with loved ones facing mental health issues. Gaslighting is a form of mental abuse where a person or a group makes the person suffering question their sanity, perception, and feelings. You may not understand what the person is going through, but do not dismiss the unknown to reassure yourself. This can lead to disastrous consequences for the person trying to heal.
2. Make It About You
Avoid using “I” when trying to bring comfort to someone: “If I were you, I would…” or “Something similar happened to me and I…” are expressions that steal the focus away from the person in pain. You are not the one struggling; do not assume you understand their state of mind. If you genuinely want to help, keep the focus on the one you wish to support.
3. Express your Own Distress
People facing mental health challenges have plenty of things to figure out, and they cannot focus on getting better when friends and family choose to share how stressed and impotent the whole situation is making them. There are chances you communicating your distress will lead to victim-shaming: You will most likely add extra pressure on your loved one, piling on to the difficult reality they may already have to deal with. Instead, do not hesitate to seek professional assistance to help you cope.
4. Be Rational
Mental health challenges require a lot of work on emotions and triggers. Bear in mind that when it comes to emotions, offering rational solutions is completely out of scope. In other words, your to-do list of things you like doing to feel better will absolutely not help someone rewire their brain and change their train of thought when exposed to certain events.
5. Mention Stereotypes
You may know a certain number of things about specific mental health conditions. Please make sure you are not letting your unconscious bias interfere with the thoughts or concerns you are sharing with someone facing a mental health battle. It is tedious enough for vulnerable people to fight their way out, without having to self-identify to counterproductive labels they may have heard from you.
Generally speaking, recovering from mental health issues is a long, arduous and lonely road, that requires tremendous resilience. Besides diligent professional follow-up, receiving appropriate support from friends, family or acquaintances can definitely help make it or break it. Do you know someone who has survived their mental health struggles? Chances are this person is still being discriminated against for having experienced that battle, especially if they had to put their life on hold for a while. Want to be their best advocate and facilitate their inclusion? Acknowledge how fierce they had to be and champion an empowering narrative around them.