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How To Treat Someone With A Severe Mental Illness

This blog post will be somewhat controversial, but as someone who is deemed ‘seriously mentally ill’ I feel a need to speak out and give people my version of events and how I would like others to respond to my illness and I. Severe mental illness in my opinion is an illness which someone can’t control and affects them considerably, however law generally cites severe mental illness as Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia, however I personally recognize illnesses like PTSD, depression and others can be severe for various people. I feel all mental illnesses are serious, but for this post I will give personal examples related to my experiences of Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia.

I would also like to note that my experiences are my own and that I can only speak from a personal objective with the hope that you all familiarise and feel similarly with what I am saying. Please note that all people are different, as are all illnesses and generally as a rule of thumb – be sensitive.

Educate yourself

I can immediately say that those around me still do not know how to treat me. I am treated very differently than I am before by some, and not differently at all by others. Recognizing mental illness is the first step and it’s important to understand someone is unwell and that they may need treatment that’s different to what you would give to others off the bat. So many people in my family feel I am too normal to have a real issue and many friends say the same thing, numerous times I have been told to ‘cheer up’ from depression or ‘calm down’ from mania, or more bizarrely to ‘ignore’ my psychosis. I think to truly understand, a basic Google search will really equip you. Understanding the illness will do you the world of good as you may not feel you can relate, but you can at least try to put yourself into their shoes and break down what it is that’s troubling another.

Be Sensitive

Bipolar Disorder means I struggle a lot with my mood and I really can’t help some of my reactions and actions when I am in an episode. Schizophrenia means I can lose myself in situations and I am very much distracted by consistent nuisances that are not actually there. Believe me when I say it, but I honestly can’t help it.

I am not saying you have to think before you say anything and remember that I am unwell before you even move your lips, but learning about someone’s diagnosis and accepting that will help you a lot in how you deal with others. We all have to adapt and accept that there are things that we can’t entirely understand about one another, but we have to accommodate. Being sensitive involves remembering appropriateness in certain situations – for example, a situation that might be a trigger. Try and understand someone’s trigger and what makes them worse, along with what makes them better. Try and read the signs, and when you can’t – just be polite. It’s really difficult you know! Having someone just smile can do so much good for me and ease a lot of pain that I have to consistently feel.
Be There

I understand it’s difficult when you have so much going on, but when I message people asking if they want to grab a hot chocolate or even go a walk – I’m reaching out. My biggest trigger: Loneliness. I try so much to just contact my friends and talk, or go out and socialise because when I don’t I can become very distressed. That’s not to say that I can’t spend time with myself and enjoy my own company, but when I feel alone like nobody is available to me – that’s when I shut down and act bizarrely.

Dealing with an illness when I don’t have a significant other and all my family and friends have important things going on – makes my life so much harder. Of course it’s easy to assume that I have nurses and doctors to talk to, but it really doesn’t help. I love the company of others because it delivers sanity to me and I don’t feel just like another patient, because I’m a friend.

I know personally I am such a pain in the ass because I call my girl friends so much, but I am trying to help myself and heal myself. Believe me, I can’t just fix myself. So when you get a missed call from me, or an invite to go shopping even though I have no money… it’s because I want to feel normal and I want to experience life in the company of those who experience normality much more than I do.

Don’t Be Over Sensitive

Some people I have spoken to have changed a lot around me because they feel I need accommodation 24/7. I think you have to chill out, it’s all about reading the signs. I can feel normal! There are things that act as triggers, but there is so much that doesn’t and I can sometimes (although it feels rare now) experience normality. It’s a difficult balance, and I know it’s asking a lot – but we can all learn this through just working together.

Don’t Brush It Off

This post is detailing various ways to deal with someone who is severely mentally unwell, one of the biggest ones is please don’t assume that I am normal or that I would automatically prefer you to treat me as you do others. At the end of the day, I do need a degree of care. You think you’re doing good by treating me the same as others, but if you have for example a really offensive sense of humour – that may not work entirely well with me because I am unwell. It’s about using common sense, I love people who tell jokes but if you’re making a joke about my mental illness… I probably won’t receive it very well and it may do some damage to my health.

You Can’t Cure Us

Please, please, please remember. We are unwell for a reason, we are medicated for a reason, we have people treat us for a reason and we require so much care for a reason. Your book or your movie that you recommend, of course it’s thoughtful but don’t over exert yourself with trying to cure others with mental illness. It really won’t work! It’s almost offensive when someone tries as much as they can to cure me when they can’t, and as much as people mean well – it’s worth accepting sometimes that you can’t do miracles.

Just Ask

When in doubt on how someone would like to be treated or what to do in a situation, you could try Googling – or if they are fit enough to answer – try just asking. I welcome people’s questions and I will answer anyone, no question is a stupid question. I won’t be offended if you ask personal questions or ask ones like ‘are you okay’, because I understand that taking in the information of a mental illness can be really difficult for you too! I am a person before my illness, and I do have some lovely people skills 99% of the time. Just ask, it’ll make us both feel more comfortable.

I hope this helps all of you who have someone in your life with a ‘Severe Mental Illness’, it is very difficult but it is something that people can’t control and it’s also completely random – it can affect us all in various ways. By practicing some of these things I’ve suggested, you can actually help those who are in a bad place – and that’s healing within itself.