Symptoms We Experience May Be Difficult to Explain
You have asked someone who has been diagnosed with a mental illness what you can do to help them, but they don’t know what to say. It’s not that they don’t want, or need your help, it’s that it is sometimes hard to explain. They may even be a little hesitant to open up to you, mainly because of the negative stigma associated with mental illness.
We Worry About What You Will Think
Don’t be offended! I was diagnosed with “general anxiety disorder” and “panic disorder” almost twenty years ago. Since then, I have also suffered from depression. I am very good at hiding my illness from others. Even if I am close to someone, I may not share the debilitating symptoms of anxiety I experience, or the dreadful panic attacks that sneak up on me periodically. If I feel you may be able to relate to me, or have had similar experiences, I may open up to you. If I misjudged you, most likely I will regret telling you about my mental illness and worry that you will think I’m crazy.
It’s Not That We Don’t Trust You
The reason we might not want you to know about our mental illness is not that we don’t trust you. It is because it is so hard to explain it to someone who has never felt what it is like to experience sheer panic that appears out of nowhere. How do we explain what is going through our heads when we start worrying about something small and turn it into a life threatening illness? If you have never had an anxiety or panic attack, you don’t know what it feels like when an adrenaline rush strikes your body for no apparent reason. Eventually, we might have to open up to you and explain the symptoms of our illness. The problem is that we know in our heads what the dreaded symptoms feel like, but by the time it leaves our lips, it doesn’t make much sense.
We Are Afraid
If someone has opened up to you about their illness, you must be very special to them. I can tell you from experience, that they were probably feeling very insecure. Millions of people are afraid to open up, or as I say “come out of the closet” about their mental illness. The negative stigma associated with mental illness terrifies us. We don’t want you to think we’re “crazy” or “psycho”. It’s a gamble when we open up to someone. “Will they still want to be my friend?” “Will they think I’m crazy?”. These are all things we are thinking…or should I say “overthinking”.
The Best Thing You Can Do
If you suspect someone you care about has any type of mental illness, the best thing you can do for them is to educate yourself on their condition. Read about the illness they have been diagnosed with, and most importantly, research the symptoms! Find out how you can help your loved one on a daily basis, and especially what you can do to help them through more intense episodes of their condition.
We Will Feel So Much Closer to You
Taking initiative to educate yourself on our mental illness shows us that you care, and truly want to help us. If you are more educated on our illness, we will know that you understand that having a mental illness is no different than having any other health issue, such as diabetes. Talk about what you have learned with your loved one and ask questions. I would LOVE IT if a friend or family member asked me if I’ve experienced a panic attack, and if I’ve ever had certain symptoms you read about. That would break down the wall that I put up over the years, and let you in.
It’s That Simple
That is all we need! We want to open up and talk to you, but society has made us afraid. Be proactive and educate yourself on mental illness. Asking us questions and telling us you better understand what we are going through is all we are asking for.