Friends and family are vital support for those with mental health issues but who helps the helpers?

By Caitriona McMahon

Drop a pebble in water and watch as the ripples travel further than you could have ever imagined. For the purposes of this article these ripples represent those closest to the sufferer – family, friends and carers.   

Those closest are sometimes the ones left not knowing where to turn, what to do or who to ask for advice or help.

“I feel useless, they won’t tell me what is wrong”, “I’ve tried everything but she won’t talk” or “ I’m so worried he’s not himself lately” are but a few of the comments that spring to mind.

Because mental health is an area only coming to the forefront in recent years, a lot of walking on egg shells still happens when it comes to speaking to someone we care about if  we are concerned for their welfare or safety.

But why? Why do we treat it any different to a physical injury? If a person limped would we ask did you hurt your leg? Most likely the answer is yes and dealing with mental health should be treated in the very same way.

Why not ask direct questions, for example: “I’ve noticed your not yourself lately, is everything okay?”  

The more we plant seeds that are likely to ignite conversations about mental health, the more normalised it will become for everyone.

A subconscious fear exists that perhaps if we ask intrusive questions we could be told to f#ck off or mind our own business. But what is the harm in being roared at if it triggers a conversation that may lead to that person getting the help they need or later returning to pursue the conversation further? Why not tell the sufferer the truth that we perhaps feel left out and therefore are extremely worried?

Feeling like a bystander watching a loved one in deep pain is extremely difficult and your battle is not to be underestimated.

You need to be mindful of self care and supports available to you. After all, how can we offer someone else energy or support  if we have none for ourselves?

As someone said to me lately: ‘’The worst feeling in the world is not knowing.”

Whether it’s awaiting exam results, job offers, or answers, the not knowing is unbearable. So if you are either suffering or worried about someone else I say to you this:

As the sufferer, you do not have to do this alone. If you have up until now been shutting others out I ask you the next time this happens instead of blocking them out to maybe try and communicate even a tiny piece of how you feel whether it be through words, drawing, or even texting.

Allow those worried to help. If you feel telling them what’s causing the turmoil is too much, simply ask for them to get in touch with a service that can help. Sometimes having an external person involved can make things much easier.

If you are someone worried about another person, you do not have to go through this alone either. Support is not only available for the sufferer but families and friends too.

If the not knowing is worrying you then ask the sufferer directly, “ are you okay?”, “ are you having thoughts of suicide?”

Regardless of the answer you will then know where you stand and have a direction to go in to seek support. Prior to asking you were in limbo.

Even if the sufferer refuses to answer, they now know you are willing to talk and are approachable when and if they feel ready.

We need to remove the invisible wall of fear that separates the sufferer and those worried about them. FALSE EVIDENCE APPEARING REAL (FEAR) is the only thing standing in the way of supporting each other and easing the pain. Fear of being told to f#ck off, fear of being judged, fear of the unknown.

Fear can be dissolved by holding out our hands to each other when in need.

Trust in each other.

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