Helping others understand mental illness is no easy task. When it comes to addressing this problem, no one would blame him if he simply felt overwhelmed. Some people are very resistant to the reality of mental illness and creating understanding seems almost impossible. That said, while not everyone will respond positively, I believe we can help others understand mental illness.
[Note: While this piece assumes you have a mental illness, these tips work even if you have a loved one with a mental illness. You can simply use your experience with that loved one in place of your experience with mental illness proper.]
What is it to help someone understand mental illness?
When I talk about understanding mental illness, yes, I mean the scientifically accepted version of mental illness. That means understanding that mental illness is a disease of the brain and that the biopsychosocial model (more on this below) explains what affects a person with a mental illness. It also means that the person needs to understand the importance of treatment and have empathy for people with mental illnesses, just as they would for a person with other types of illnesses. If we could achieve all that, we would have a true understanding of mental illness.
Help others understand what mental illness is
I’ve talked before about how to explain bipolar disorder to people. Now I will talk about how to help others understand mental illness in general.
When trying to help someone understand mental illness, I think it’s important to make these points:
- Medical science agrees that mental illnesses exist in the brain.
- The brain is an organ, just like the lungs or pancreas, and just like the lungs or pancreas, it can get sick. Mental illness is this type of illness.
- The brain is the most complex organ in our body. It makes sense that their illnesses are difficult to understand and less understood.
- Mental illnesses are often partly genetic, although not always. (This gives you a good opportunity to talk about any history there may be in your family.)
- More than just biology affects mental illness. We now understand that biology, psychology, and environmental factors play a role in the development and treatment of mental illness. (That is the biopsychosocial model). We can change our environment and psychology to help us recover from mental illness or live with it more successfully.
You may also want to list famous and successful people who live with mental illness (there are many sources for this). (I recommend that you use examples of people who have spoken openly about their mental illness and not those who are simply assumed to have a mental illness, as in the case of a posthumous diagnosis.) While I consider famous people to be pretty irrelevant, other people like to know these things.
Finally, I recommend having resources on hand to obtain more information if the person wants it. My book is one of those resources., as it is both educational and experience-based. Other sources include:
Help others understand the experience of mental illness
Now is the time to talk about what it’s really like to live with his Mental illness. If others’ quotes help you, use them too, but the best thing you can do is talk about your own experience. Education about mental illness in general, or even your own mental illness in general, is good, but talking about your personal experience is better.
I know that talking about your own experience can be discouraging, but remember, you can choose the aspects of your mental illness that you I want to talk. If you have depression, you may not talk about suicidal tendencies, but rather how difficult it is to get out of bed, for example. No matter what you choose, I recommend discussing how you feel and giving concrete examples. This will help people better understand mental illness.
Now is also the time to talk about the memoirs of people with mental illnesses. Many of them really shed light on the experience of living with mental illness. (And for some reason, sometimes a well-written book can speak to a person more effectively than it does to a loved one. It also provides validation of her own experience.)
Help others understand the treatment of mental illness
The first thing you need to make clear to anyone who is trying to help understand mental illness is that while mental illness is not curable, per se, people can successfully live with it. In fact, some people recover quite well with treatment. (How much of that you want to emphasize depends on your particular illness and your particular experience.)
Since mental illness is affected by multiple factors, it is important to say all the things that can help with your mental illness. Of course, the main treatment methods are therapy and medication in most cases (the bio and psycho parts of the model), but it must also be said that environmental factors also play an important role.
Examples of this include:
And any other techniques you use to help your mental health flourish. Your techniques may be unique to you, and that’s okay. Again, talking about your experience can be very helpful here.
And don’t be afraid to mention hospitalization if that’s part of your experience or if it’s a possibility for you. If you need to talk about it, you can simply say that sometimes more intensive treatment is needed and can be offered in a psychiatric facility. Psychiatric facilities are not like in the movies. Now they are medical centers that work to help people, not punish them.
The reason you want to highlight this point is because you want to make it clear that you have some control over your illness. You are not simply a victim of biology; Improvement happens, even if it requires daily effort. You are also making it clear that you are taking responsibility for your illness by implementing healthy and helpful habits. Hopefully, this will make the person support your efforts.
Help others understand how to live with mental illness
As you may have noticed, I’ve been saying all along that you should talk about your personal experience to help someone understand mental illness. Hopefully, you’ve been doing that.
Anyway, now is the time to talk about your current status. Are you struggling? Are you getting stuck? Are you in recovery? What do you want to say about how you are living now? What are your goals? How do you plan to reach them?
I hate to put the onus on you, but while you’re trying to help someone understand mental illness, you should also help them feel hopeful about moving forward. The ways to do this are:
- Talking about where you started compared to where you are now
- Talking about what you’ve overcome
- Mention that research continues and evolves every day.
- Talking about how to keep hope
I know if you don’t feel hopeful at the moment, this can be difficult, but remember, even if you don’t feel hopeful, have hope. is real. And you know what? If you have no hope, you can always say that. You can say that while you’re not feeling very hopeful right now, you know that things will change over time because they always have (and always do).
Be Prepared for Questions When Helping Someone Understand Mental Illness
Another thing to remember is that questions are a natural part of the learning process; in fact, they are positive. While they may seem invasive, they are probably not intended to be. Try to answer the questions as openly and honestly as possible. And if you don’t know an answer, use it as an opportunity to learn something together.
Why help someone understand mental illness?
It’s up to you whether you think it’s worth the effort to help someone understand mental illness. It may not always be worth it. Some people don’t respond. Some people are against science. Some people are antipsychiatric. Some people’s opinions are simply unchangeable. I understand that. But I do believe that more people than you think can truly understand mental illness if we do the work to help them. I understand that this puts the burden on us, which isn’t fair, but if it’s important to you, it’s something that can be done.
Other posts you may like