Lifestyle: Reaching Out

Rushika Bhatnagar talks about the importance of mental health, empowering those around you and helping someone in need.

Watching someone you care about go through a difficult time can be a harrowing experience. Mental health issues are not neat; they tend to be confusing and painful which makes it hard for the person to speak out and ask for help, making it an incredibly isolating experience. But your friend or family member does not have to go through it alone. There are signs that might indicate that its time for you to reach out and there are things you can do to help them in a healthy way.

Some of the best mental health support involves empowerment. Being able to build someone up by empowering them helps them regain self-confidence and autonomy which are both crucial in recovery. But it all begins with reaching out, the person themselves might not be able to do so as reaching out to get help is extremely difficult and absolutely terrifying.

Speaking as someone who is still in the non-linear journey of recovering from mental health issues, reaching out to get help has been one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. Being able to word everything I was feeling with all the confusing and conflicting thoughts and emotions I had was the first hurdle. Mental health issues are not neat, at times when attempting to talk about things that I was having a hard time with I either spoke about my issues in a joking manner making light of every issue, or in an ‘aggressive’ way where everything seem to “come out at once.” Often when mental health sufferers reach out it can look really messy and upsetting and unfortunately we don’t culturally know what to do with the intense mixture of despair and vulnerability that someone who might be ‘reaching out’ represents. As a result my jokes on the topic were often met with “omg same” and my more culturally negative emotions such as sadness and anger were met with a “I don’t know what to say.” No-one really teaches us what to do when we see someone in pain in a non-physical way.

The stigma of mental health overshadows discussions of these issues  but the more we talk about it, the more conversations we have on public forums and in everyday life the closer we come to finding answers that could literally help save lives. Unfortunately, as aforementioned, these conversations can’t always be led by those who themselves are suffering, but you can help not only have these conversations, but also help the person you care about. You might find it hard to understand what they are going through and you might be uncertain as to how you can help but you can be there for them by listening to them and helping them access professional support if they need it.

The type of mental health support someone receives makes a huge difference in their recovery. What tends to happen in most situations is that when someone is in the throes of a mental health crisis, it’s natural to want to make their problems disappear. Sometimes, we readily jump in to remove obstacles, fix, and make things as easy as possible for the person they care about. Such help is known as enabling. With enabling, people try to make healing possible for someone but they do all of the work.  You are not responsible in ‘fixing’ someone else or their problems. This is unhealthy for both parties and can quickly become frustrating too. It removes the opportunity for the loved one to take charge of his/her own mental health recovery. The best help you can provide is help ‘from behind,’ rather than (pulling them from the front) you can provide support in order to help them take charge of their own mental health. Empowerment strengthens mental health recovery. For you it means lending appropriate assistance and support without taking responsibility for the person’s recovery, and for them it means regaining a sense of control over their life.

So what can you actually do?

Reach out. If you think someone is having a hard time, try talking to them directly about it and be patient. It can be really hard to start the conversation when going through a tough time, and due to the overwhelming emotions they might be experiencing it might take more than one attempt to get them to properly open up.

Actively listen. Let them talk as much as they need but ask open-ended questions and repeat back to them phrases to understand at a deeper level and to show them you’re listening. Listen without coming up with solutions, more often than not the person already knows how to fix their own issues- they just need someone to listen.

Encourage them to get professional support. Health professionals are trained individuals who can provide them the right support they need to have a health recovery pathway.

Help maintain their self-esteem. When they talk  it is important to be respectful, non-judgemental and avoid making the person feel inadequate in any way.

Help them build self-awareness and confidence. Just as we do as all out friends, point out the person’s ‘blind spots’ about their qualities and help them recognise their potential from time to time.

Check in often but don’t let it take over your life. Let them know you’re there for them when need be and you will check in often but not ‘on-call 24/7.’ This sets some boundaries that helps make sure there is less emotional dependency.

Help them look at multiple different self-help techniques. This helps elevate the sense of autonomy and can help them find techniques that genuinely help them recover. This can range from mindfulness to yoga to exercise and many others.

Small things make a big difference to people with mental health problems and the best ways you can help people is by teaching them to love and help themselves. So reach out, listen and help them to help themselves.

And more important than all, start talking about mental health and let’s work towards breaking the taboo around it.

 

One in five adults in New Zealand will experience some form of mental illness this year.

The Student Disability Services Mental Health Advisors can meet with students with a diagnosed pre-existing mental health condition with the specific purpose of developing plans and accommodations to support them to be successful at university. The Mental Health Advisors work by appointment only, Monday to Thursday between 9am and 3pm. Please email Student Disability Services at disabilities@auckland.ac.nz or visit Room 036, Student Disability Services, Basement, ClockTower to book an appointment.

University Health and Counselling are available for Counselling and support with mental health issues – please see the website  www.auckland.ac.nz/counsellingservices