[Guest Post] Mental Illness and Supporting Others // Shattering Stigmas

Posted October 9, 2017 by Both in Features, Join the Dance // Events, Tags & Challenges / 7 Comments

Shattering Stigmas is an annual blogging event that lasts two weeks. During this fortnight, we’ll be talking about anything and everything mental health related. The aim of these posts are to take away some of the stigma surrounding mental illness, to invite people to open up about their stories, and to help others learn.

My dear friend Dina has written not one but two blog posts for this event – she also wrote On Friendship and Mental Illness. Her little corner of the internet is called Dinasoaur and you can also find her on Twitter.

Mental Illness and Supporting Others

Last weekend, I saw a girl working in a restaurant. She was smiling and doing her work well. But, she had scars running up her arms in diligent lines. Now, the people I was with wanted to point to me, as someone who used to cut. This made me think of mental illness and supporting others.

The problem with this

Mental illness is an isolating persisting thoughts and emotions. While some people manage to share their internal struggles, many cannot do so in fear of being judged.

The problem with approaching someone as though they are “damaged” or “in need of fixing” is that doing so puts them in a vulnerable position. It often helps to approach people with love and compassion. That doesn’t mean you give them advice that belittles their struggle.

I guess part of the issue is that people sometimes assume that mental illness is the same across the board. Like the cashier at the restaurant, I was once a self-harmer. But, that doesn’t mean I have an understanding of why she cuts. These things are very personal and individual. There is no universal definitions to how mental illness may manifest itself for everyone.

So what helps?

Talking about it. Be open to hear what this person’s experience is like,if or when they want to discuss it. I know it’s hard to hold in the advice, but recognize your intentions. A lot of the time people want to share advice to make themselves feel better. Like, they somehow “helped” the person.

You have to gain their trust, and be genuine in getting to know them as people. Mental illnesses don’t define a person. You don’t automatically know a person just because you have similar struggles.

But, if you have your own mental illnesses, talk about it with friends and family. Normalize this struggle, and help lessen the stigma. By doing this, people can then stop trying to turn a blind eye to these very human struggles.

When you do this, you lessen the intensity of the staring that people can experience.

Supporting others: how?

Make the world a more welcoming place. And, yes, we cannot control the world, but we can certainly create safe spaces for people to talk about their struggles, to share their feelings without fear of judgement, without getting advice they didn’t ask for.

Be an ally. Champion those whose stories and narratives are suppressed by society. Raise people up, and try not to tear anyone down–even if you mean well.

Your turn

How do you support others? And what are some of the best things you’ve learned from people who support you? Share in the comments, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter.


7 responses to “[Guest Post] Mental Illness and Supporting Others // Shattering Stigmas

  1. Thank you for this great advice! I think it’s very easy for people without mental illness to assume there’s a single mental health story when there’s really such a diverse range of experiences!

    • ahitsdina

      Hi Taylor,
      Yep, and even people with mental illness can slip into this assumption that everyone is somehow “healthier” than them. I know I definitely tend to automatically think this way, and I have to make an effort to hear people out and understand their pain, too. In doing so, I start to break away from the limiting beliefs on how people can connect–whether they have mental illness or not.

  2. This is great, Dina! It’s such a good point that people think that all mental illnesses are the same. It’s hard too, because you don’t want to NOT support someone, but you also don’t want to invade privacy. Honestly, I just like when people are open to talking, and maybe even more important, listening. Great post, thank you so much for sharing it!

    • ahitsdina

      Totally agree. Listening is really hard because it’s much easier to just say the rehearsed narrative we are raised with. Like, “Oh, cutting is not good,” or “hang in there; it gets better.” The truth is, everyone has their own story and their own pain. Putting on quick band-aids don’t ever help anyone. It’s a cosmetic kind of solution. Ah, sheesh, I can go on and on about this. Thank you for the sweet support, Shannon!

  3. Awesome post. I suppose this kind of interaction with your friends happens because of stigma, which is why this event is so great. But as you mentioned, everyone has a different story and a different reason and no two stories are going to be the same. I like that you wrote about supporting others because I think it’s something people struggle with, even if they have the right intentions. You don’t have to have the answers to support or have had the same experiences to relate. I think the best thing you can do is listen (so underrated!) and hold space.

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