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Mental Illness Is a Silent Killer

Knowing what to say and what not to say could save a life.

"I feel anxious and sad all of the time I don't know how to make it stop."

This is a statement a friend of mine said to me a week ago. I listened quietly as stoic and silent tears fell from her face. She stumbled over her words as she tried to tell me what she was experiencing. Going through my own struggle with depression and anxiety I could empathize. I  listened patiently to her talk about what she was feeling. Despite having a good job and a loving family, she just could not help the way she was feeling or what to do about it. However, when disclosing the sadness and anxiety she was feeling, they (her family) couldn't understand. I told her this is not because they did not care, I told her that they may feel a sense of panic and shame and did not know how to help. 

"I just felt worse than before," she confided that her family said some things that they thought might lift her spirits to gain a new perspective to make her feel better, but it just made everything worse. 

After our conversation, I thought a lot about the things that were said when my friend tried to open up to her family and realized that similar things were said to me when I tried to talk to my own family. 

Mental illness is a silent killer that can occur at any time during a single lifetime. The onset of depression and anxiety, for example, can be triggered for several reasons. A breakup, financial stress, and childhood trauma are just a few reasons why a friend or relative is feeling anxious and depressed. 

However, there may not be an obvious reason as to why one is hit with any mental illness which is why this is a subject that remains stigmatized and shunned by so many.

Listening without judgment to a friend or relative who has chosen to confide that they are struggling with any mental illness is a matter of urgency for us all. It could mean the difference between life or death.

Later in this post, I will point out some of the most common remarks to avoid when a loved one, co-worker or a family member decides to put into words on what they are experiencing. Mental illness is one of the most "invisible" and often deadly afflictions there is. When a friend or relative needs to be heard, take what is being said seriously and just listen with an open mind and without judgment. Chances of a family member or relative getting the proper help of a professional to help in the healing process will have a higher success rate of recovery. Never turn your back when hearing a friend or family member is experiencing a mental health problem. 

Be patient and listen to the best way to show that you care. When it comes to talking to or hearing about a loved one open up on the subject of mental health, we freeze or panic because it is in our human nature to react this way for the simple fact that mental illness is a topic we as a society are still trying to articulate and understand. This why mental illness is a very tabu a controversial subject to deal with. This is why I chose to write this article because at least one in five individuals will experience some type of mental illness in his or her lifetime. We need to keep the conversation going. Helping a loved one we care about is important to shed some light on this very dark subject. Yes, it is uncomfortable to hear and talk about. We need to listen anyway by avoiding comments that could make a situation worse. This is why we have trained professionals to help a loved with the proper coping strategies to help them get well. It may take years of counseling and medication. Listening without fear is a key role of a friend or parent to allow for the journey to recovery to begin. 

There is no granted one hundred percent survival rate. Therapy and medication may help or it may not. The important thing to remember is that you are there and willing to help, no matter how trivial, frustrating, and scary it is to hear a friend talk about what is going on inside their head. Eventually, you will be glad you were there to be supportive and willing to help. Feeling helplessness is completely normal when a friend or relative needs to talk. Encourage them to do so and cry if helps in the healing process of a mental health concern.

Not turning your back, could mean life or death.

Just being there can make a  world of difference. Even though your friend or loved one is doing most of the talking. Please always be patient and take the time to hear what they have to say. Instead of wondering what you SHOULD say, after thoughtfully listening to what a friend or family member is experiencing and expressing. I  urge you to reconsider some very common phrases to avoid when a person you care about is experiencing any mental health problem.

Just listening could mean the difference between life or death. 

Investing in listening and understanding mental health is one of the best ways to relieve the stigma and complexity that surrounds this silent killer.  

Below are some examples of common phrases to avoid when a loved one or co-worker needs to talk about their mental health. 

This could make a huge difference between getting proper help or suffering in silence.

Make time to listen even though you may not understand.

It could save a life.

"It's all in your head."

This a comment that my friend's father made because he could not see anything physically wrong with her, so this is what came out of his mouth. No real insight was shared about what was really going on behind closed doors.

When an individual is depressed or anxious, the feelings may be so intense that they are only able to convey only fragments instead of the entire picture. This may be emotionally draining, especially for a parent, because not knowing a quick way to help them may leave feelings of frustration and worry. Sure, your child may have a great job a wonderful family and little financial worries. From a parents' perspective, this may seem like the perfect automatic response that comes out because even though they may have a ton of bills to pay, a thankless job with little to no extra support. In comparison, her dad feels completely fine.

Other things like, "I wish I had your life" or "hey, would you like to hear about the day I had yesterday?" Part of this inner dialog may or may not come out of a loved one's mouth, but along with it is body language. The friend or relative who has chosen to confide in you will sense this immediately. They may feel a sense of helplessness and regret for confiding in the first place. By the time the conversation ends, they may feel that whatever they are struggling with is really just all in their head when in fact the opposite is true. They know what they are feeling and they came to you to be there and to listen — not to just ramble on to waste your time. Take the time to put whatever is happening in your own life aside. It may be difficult to do, but in the end, you will be glad you took the time and patience to listen.

Here are a few examples of what NOT to say when someone says that he or she is experiencing a mental health problem.

"Snap out of it."

Those of us who have not experienced any mental health issues may also rush to make this statement for the simple fact that they do not understand or are having trouble relating to what they are hearing. Telling someone to "snap out of it" is similar to a friend or relative confiding to you that they are struggling with terminal cancer and has only months to live. This is a perfect example of why you should invest in hearing what another has to tell you about their feelings when it comes to dealing with a mental health concern. With any mental health issue, it is important to know that mental illness is similar to cancer and should be treated with equal compassion and respect.

"You need to get out more."

With any mental illness, just getting out of bed can be exhausting. Getting ready for work may seem like an easy task for you. However, when your close friend or relative is struggling with depression, just the thought of getting out of bed is impossible, let alone going for a walk to clear their head or blow off steam. Depression is very real to the person who is experiencing the intense feelings that go along with it.

Depression is an "invisible" but a very real medical condition. It will not go away overnight simply because they went out for a walk.

Be patient and listen to what they have to say. Encourage them to seek professional help even though you are having trouble relating to what is being said.

Listen with patience and compassion the next time someone tries to confide in you about a mental health problem they are experiencing. When the conversation comes to a close, tell them that you believe what they are telling you even though you are unable to relate or fully understand.

Just listening and not trying to sweep what is being said under the rug may give them the courage to get professional help. Even save his or her life.

"You are crazy."

The thoughts and feelings that you are hearing may sound crazy to you. For the family member or co-worker, it is frightening and very real. Listening and hearing them out will put them a lot more at ease and want to talk to a professional.

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