Let’s take a moment to reflect on mental health. Merriam-Webster defines mental health as “the condition of being sound mentally and emotionally that is characterized by the absence of mental illness and by adequate adjustment especially as reflected in feeling comfortable about oneself, positive feelings about others, and the ability to meet the demands of daily life.”
When you take this definition at face value, all of our mental health is probably subpar. However, when we further examine and dissect this definition, we see that it calls for a diagnosis of mental illness. In all actuality, mental illnesses go undiagnosed at an alarming rate. This is due in part to the fact that mental health is stigmatized and often compared to physical ailments. To some, if you can’t see the problem, it ceases to exist. Sometimes, mental illness parades itself physically. You can see it in those who can’t conduct healthy self-care and maintain their appearance, but also vomiting because of anxiety, pulling your hair out as a result of stressors and triggers, and physical self-harm. In spite of all this, we tend to fix the outward appearance before we examine the mind.
“Let’s get you cleaned up so you can go out with us.” ” We’ll take you to the hairdresser and see if she can cover some of those bald patches.” “We’re going to bandage your arms to prevent infections and keep you from reopening your wounds.”
But what about what’s going on inside? Why not ask how I got to this point? The conversation is uncomfortable — both to initiate and to respond. Not everyone is forthcoming with the sources of their pain, but it is important to ask people how they’re really doing and to mean it. Don’t extend your help and condolences if you aren’t prepared for what you may see or hear. I only say this to say, if this person is using you as their lifeline in that moment and you lack an adequate response, it can send them spiraling further. Be kind. Be courteous. Don’t discredit the feelings of others because you can’t relate to their experiences. This person trusts you enough to explain why they’re hurting or unstable.
If you feel you are unable to help, act as an advocate or a supporter. Recommend alternatives if you feel you may not be capable of providing specific care or aid. Aim to be present for the person you are supporting, but most importantly pay attention.
No matter who you are or what your situation may be, take the time to practice self-care. This can be a process of trial-and-error, and definitely is not one size fits all. Practice meditating, taking time out of your day to read or engage in activities you enjoy, getting active, or taking up a new hobby. Below are some links that can help you get started.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).