Often times, community support can be overlooked in the topic of mental health. Stigma around mental disorders usually means a high emphasis on personal responsibility, leaving the sufferer thinking it’s up to them to fix themselves. How many times have you heard these phrases in media, or even in casual conversations, “What’s wrong with them?” “Why can’t they stop acting like that?” “They need so much attention!”. While a willingness from those struggling with mental health issues is imperative to treatment, community support - such as peers, family, & friends - can often be overlooked as a critical part of the healing process. Because of this, I thought it would be important to highlight just how important this role is to your loved ones with mental illness in an open letter.
Dear friends and family,
Do not give up on your loved one. They need you. Trust me, I know it can be frustrating, and you can feel helpless at times. In those times of exasperation, try to pause for a moment and be empathetic. Try and imagine how frustrated they must be feeling. They want to communicate with you, they want to explain to you where it is coming from and why. They wish it was as easy as hearing you say, “Just don’t worry about it” - but it’s not. They especially don’t want to let you down. They don’t want to be a burden. They love you so much, but live in fear that you will someday get tired and walk away. Why? Because it might be too much handle, which may mean they are too much to handle. Please, please - don’t give up on them. Remind them they are doing the best they can. Remind them that they don’t have to live in fear. Remember that you are having a front row seat to their internal struggle. Be their shoulder to cry on and an ear to listen.
Thank you for the support. When they don’t want to talk, or don’t know how to talk about what is going on, your reliability allows them space to be more gentle with themselves. Thank you for helping pick up the pieces after one of the many times of panic and emotional breakdowns. Thank you for not judging or shunning when you’re pushed away over and over again. For not complaining when the fear tells them that you are never there for them. Thank you for your continued fight against mental health stigma and for bringing awareness to the normalcy of mental health struggles. Thank you for advocating for your friend and family when they didn’t know how to or were unable to advocate for themselves. Thank you for your willingness to learn and educate others. Thank you for reassuring them and distracting them from themselves. Thank you for being you, and for loving unconditionally.
Here’s to you:
You may get frustrated, be confused, or become drained - nevertheless you continue along this journey. Your friend or family member is in a better place because of your support, encouragement, humor and love.
When you love someone its difficult to separate and focus on yourself, especially when you see them in pain. It’s crucial you don’t forget to take care of yourself regularly. Self-care is pivotal for everyone to be successful; which means taking space for yourself when you feel overwhelmed, establishing boundaries that work for you, and doing your own mental health work. Stay strong for yourself, stay strong for your loved one, and when you can’t stay strong, know that you are loved.