Watching Someone Struggle With Their Mental Health

After a long four-month summer, the return to school has finally come. Like many students, I never find returning to school very easy, especially after having four months to soak up the sun while avoiding textbooks and assignments. Either way, I packed up my things and moved back to Oshawa to continue my studies.

The transition from summer to school was especially hard on me this year. Within the first three days of classes, my younger brother had been in a serious dirt biking accident, forcing him to be airlifted to a hospital in London where he spent the night. Of course, my first thought was, “somehow I have to get home!” but my Dad assured me that the doctors said he was able to go home, and despite a few stitches and bruises, would be fine. I sighed out some relief, thinking that everything really was “fine”.

I have never really seen first hand the symptoms of a concussion or understood the possible severity of them, nor had I ever connected concussions with mental health. That was until I noticed a huge difference in the way my brother acted before and after his accident. Not only had he become very short-tempered, but he also became frustrated during conversations when he could not keep up. His usual confident and put-together self had become extremely emotional, unhappy, and anxious. Even talking to him on the phone, I noticed.

I don’t know if there is anything more heartbreaking than watching someone you care about struggle with their own mental health, and I know it is something people have to do all the time, whether it be a friend or a family member. Not only do I find it heartbreaking, but I find it frustrating. How can you help them? What should you do? What should you not do? All these questions rolled through my mind every day. If I discovered anything from this journey of witnessing someone you care about struggle with mental health, it was these three things:

  1. Most importantly, listen. I am someone who is eager to give advice and recommend services, but if one thing became obvious to me it is that listening for the sake of listening is so much more beneficial than listening to give advice. A lot of the time, I don’t even think my brother knew what was bothering him, but talking about how he was feeling often made him feel a lot better. Sometimes you need to exhale stress before you can inhale advice.
  2. Remind the person you care about that you care about them! This sounds silly. Especially for a relationship like the one between my brother and I, it is obvious that I care about him. When something like a concussion impacts your mental well-being, it is nice to know that people have empathy. They want to understand how you feel, and they want to connect to how you feel. I’ll use the classic “put yourself in another’s shoes” quote. People want to know that they are not alone.
  3. Erase stigma from your mind. I found this way more difficult than it sounds. I find that a lot of people need to see mental health on a continuum, and they ask themselves where this person belongs on the line. Are they just having a bad day? Is this more serious than I think it is? I think at first I believed that because doctors said “he’s fine”, the mental battles my brother has been facing were “just bad days”. I understand now that I know so little about how he feels, and I know no one else’s experiences or how I should react to their internal struggles. Be open-minded, and believe what comes from the main source. When my brother tells me how he feels, I believe it, and I do my best to understand it. I think this is how we should treat all people, whether it just be a “bad day” or something more serious.

I won’t claim to be a professional when it comes to mental health or mental illnesses, but I am someone, who like many others, has witnessed the impacts a poor mental health can have on someone. If I can make any suggestions based on what I have experienced with my brother, it is that we need to believe everyone is worth hearing. Everyone’s feelings are valid, and everyone deserves a chance to feel better about themselves. Be someone that can be empathetic, and be someone who isn’t afraid to speak up if you feel like you need to talk. Mental health is so fragile, and I believe everyone has been challenged by their mental health at some point in their lives. We should be open-minded, listen to understand, care about others, and erase the stigma that surrounds mental health.

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Doing what you can for those in need…

For the past 7 summers I have worked at the Canadian National Exhibition, 3 of which I have been a supervisor. This is definitely my favourite time of the year because it is the one job that although it can be very stressful, gives me the most peace. Seeing all the happy guests and helping make those guests happy gives me a joy that I don’t normally feel in my daily life.

This year was the same, if not better than the rest, but right from the start I was presented with a challenge I never thought would happen. On one of my staffs first day she expressed to me that she was having some issues with her mental health and she didn’t know where to turn to besides Google (which we all know is just a disaster waiting to happen). I asked her if she had thought about seeking professional advice but she felt as though no one would get it, that people wouldn’t believe how she feels which is something I completely understand and can relate to so I didn’t push further. And although I did not know much about body dysmorphia, I knew that I had to try and help her in any way that I could.

For the next week or so I began going onto UOIT’s library website and printing out credible articles on the subject (which I totally recommend for those who are starting out their journey to recovery).  Then on my travels to and from work, I read and highlighted parts I found important before handing it all over to her in a little package. Of course as a psychology student it was incredibly interesting to read and very helpful in understanding what the disorder entailed, but nothing was more exciting than the look of relief/appreciation on her face.

I can’t say what changed her mind, maybe it was the information I gave her, maybe it was the fact that I was so understanding to how she felt, or maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with me, but she is now considering going to speak to someone professionally. Putting your faith into a professionals hands can definitely be intimidating, especially for those of us who are tormented by our thoughts and don’t want others to know that side of us. But even if you don’t continue to see someone, I strongly urge you to at least make one visit, take the chance because it may not help (therapy really isn’t for everyone), but it may do incredible things for your mental health.

I think the point of me sharing this is that if someone comes to you with a mental health issue DO NOT turn away because it took so much courage for them to confide in you. A small gesture really does go a long way and even if you don’t know what to do you could end up really impacting someone’s life and in turn they may impact yours for the better.

** It’s been a rough 6 months for me so this post is a little short- more of a way for me to get back into writing!