How Family and Friends Can Help Those with Mental Illness

One of the many questions I get when speaking is “How can we help those with depression?” I’m so glad to hear people asking this question because it shows that they see, at least partially, the pain that their friend or family member is going through and they want to help. So here are a couple of suggestions I have gotten from friends who also suffer from mental illness.

My first response to this question is to tell the person that you are there for them. Depression and anxiety often make a person feel very alone. But these diseases can also make a person push family and friends away because they don’t believe that anyone can understand how they feel. Showing a depressed person that you are there for them by doing little things like helping around the house, can help that person start their road to recovery.

A friend with depression said this when asked what family and friends can do to help, “Invites back to life. Depression is not living. People should try to push you to resume daily life starting with fun!” She’s right. Depression is not living, depression is only an existence. By inviting a depressive out to daily events like shopping or just taking a walk, you are inviting them back to having a life.

Another way to help someone with a mental illness is to encourage them to seek professional help. Help them find a psychiatrist or therapist that they like. Make sure they are getting to their appointments and taking their meds.

The biggest gift you can give them is being nonjudgmental. They often can’t help the direction their mind is going in. By being nonjudgmental and showing understanding, you can help them stop the rumination which is a big part of depression and anxiety. The best thing you can do is be supportive and ask if there is anything they need.

Encourage them also to get involved with art, music, or anything that allows them to creatively express themselves. Expressive therapy is known to be extremely therapeutic.

It is often the smallest things that can have the biggest impact for a person with depression. Inviting them out to dinner or trying to establish some type of normalcy will help them feel much better about themselves and help pull them from the depression. For us, it’s the small things that count the most.

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Family

Family. Almost everyone has a family, whether they want one or not. Family is usually there for you. They stick by you no matter what and often times they get on your nerves with their constant advice. They always have some sort of input on your life whether you want it or not. Families are there for each other and support each other.

So what happens when you are diagnosed with depression and your family has no clue what to do or even what that means? Oftentimes they try their best to help, but sometimes their ‘help’ consists of platitudes, cliches, or questions that don’t help the situation. This can be frustrating at best and at it’s worst, can actually worsen your depression.

Lately, all I’ve been hearing from my family is you need to stop doing this or start doing that. I want to tell them that all I really need is support not advice. You are not living my life nor are you standing in my shoes, you have no idea what I’m going through. Why is it that my two friends are better support than you are? Instead, I get asked when I’m going to go back to school or when am I going to get a better job. I just want to scream at them “I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve got right now, is that not good enough?”

It’s bad enough that I haven’t been able to succeed at following my own life plan, I don’t need you to force yours on to me. Maybe I won’t complete school. Maybe I’ll never get a college degree, is that such a bad thing? Which is silly because I do want to go back to school and get a degree, I just want everyone to stop asking me these questions, because right now I don’t have the answers. Right now, I’m living day to day, just trying to make it through.

So I’m sure you’re asking yourself, as family, what can I do? Sometimes silent support is the best support. And as tempting as it may seem, giving advice isn’t going to help. Oftentimes, it only makes us feel worse. The best question you can ask is “How are you doing?”, followed by “Is there anything I can do to help you?”. These two questions show your support of the person and allows them to respond in a manner most comfortable for them.

These are the two questions I wish my family would ask me without judgement or criticism. I wish they would stop trying to give me advice, platitudes or asking me questions that I don’t know the answers to. I’m trying my best at the moment, why can’t that be enough?

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My Story: After Outpatient Treatment Part 3

Week 3, Day 1
Yesterday I hung out with the BF. We had fun visiting local downtown areas having lunch and then hitting up the mall. I was looking for a new swimsuit top for the summer. Now, I’m a slightly bigger girl, with a pretty large bust so it can be difficult for me to find tops that fit. So, after visiting the first of the 2 stores we were going to look at, I had a minor meltdown. I knew that anything I was going to find was going to have to be altered and that was if I found something in the first place. My BF dragged me over to some couches where we just sat and talked and cried. Well, I cried but he was so kind and understanding. He sees me in such a different light than I see myself and it’s amazing.

In the end, we didn’t find any swimsuit top that would work, so I decided an old bra and tank top would work for now, but the bonding experience we had was definitely worth the struggle we went through just in looking. I can’t believe I’ve found this amazing guy who is willing to deal with my ups and my downs and it’s amazing that he wants to be with me. I can’t wait to see where things go from here.

PS: Don’t teach BF any more coping skills!!! He knows way too much about rumination, and is consistently reminding me of when I do it already!! 🙂

5/12
I’m heading to vacation this week. I’m so excited to have a couple of days to relax and help my grandparents. I still haven’t found a swimsuit but that’s ok. I’ll just wear a bra and tank top. It’s not very warm out anyway so maybe the extra layers will help. I’m excited to get away from life for even just three days and spend some time out on the water. It always helps me relax and I always feel better afterward.

5/14
I only feel important, like I’m a priority when I’m needed/wanted for help with something. At least within my family, I feel like they only want me around when they need me to do something for them. Otherwise, I just feel like I’m in the way or I get the feeling that they want me to go away. I know that they don’t always like that I’m so open about my depression and my life on this blog but I just never understood hiding things. And I’m hoping that being more open about my struggle will help others with depression and promote understanding to those without it.

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Validation & Why It Can Become A Problem

Validation is important because it is telling yourself or others that what you think, experience, believe and feel is real, important, understandable and logical. We learn in childhood how to validate others and rely on their validation of ourselves. Their thoughts and opinions often affect how we think and feel about a certain situation or even another person. During childhood, however, we also learn to doubt ourselves and our emotions, so that we trust other people more than ourselves. This can be a problem because validation for both yourself and for others, improves the quality of our lives.

Validating others can help your relationships. Recognizing that their experiences, beliefs and feelings are important to them can strengthen your relationship. By validating their feelings, you are telling them that what they feel is real and understandable. Validation, however, does not mean that you approve of or agree with the behavior. Validation is non-judgmental, which can be difficult. It is our natural inclination to judge people based on their looks and behaviors so it can take some work, being non-judgmental when you validate.

Validating yourself takes time and patience. Today’s society teaches us not to rely on ourselves and our own emotions. Self-validation is about recognizing our emotions and realizing their importance. Self-validation often quiets defensive or fearful emotions. It also allows us to let go of pain and exhaustion from constant self-justification and self-doubt. Self-validation teaches us to be confident within ourselves and with our feelings and emotions, whether they are good or bad, logical or illogical.

Some ways to validate yourself and others is to observe. Focus on the inherent worth of the person or yourself. State the facts of the situation non-judgmentally. State the unstated, which includes identifying primary emotions for yourself. And finally, find out what is true or valid about the experience. When validating someone else, it is important to empathize and be non-judgmental. When validating yourself, if you realize that the thoughts you are having are ‘irrational’, it is still important to validate that they exist and are powerful in the moment.

Validation will improve the quality of your life and the lives of others. We are constantly seeking validation from others, but we also need to seek validation from ourselves. Are we comfortable with the situation? Do we approve of our actions? If not, why? Be non-judgmental and learn to be comfortable in your own skin. That’s what self-validation is all about.

Self-Esteem

It’s strange for me to hear someone say something complimentary about me. I can deal with the smaller compliments like, “you have great eyes” or “you have a pretty smile” but the compliment “you are gorgeous”, just throws me for a loop and it’s something I have to work on. When I think of myself in good terms, I think about what I can do rather than how I look. But this also has to do with my self-esteem.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have low self-esteem. Years of negative life experiences and failed expectations have led me to this point. I ‘know’ that I’m a good person but I ‘know’ is extremely different from I ‘believe’.

Low self-esteem occurs when we think negatively about ourselves and situations. This comes about because we feel the need to place value on everything and everyone. However, we set the value of our self-worth extremely low. Negative self thoughts equal negative or low self-esteem. Low self-esteem is also circular; actual or perceived criticism or negative judgments lead to repeated self-critical thoughts or cognitive distortions which leads to low self-esteem. This circle will continue until there is a change.

To exit the cycle of low self-esteem, you have to begin thinking and doing things differently. Changes have to be made. For thinking differently, examples include ‘fact versus opinion’ or ‘being more realistic’. For doing things differently, examples include ‘acknowledging your strengths, setting limits when helping others and acting who you want to be’. “Visualize yourself competently and confidently doing and enjoying the things you would like to enjoy doing and successfully doing what you need to do”.

Using positive statements or self affirmations can also help you develop a new attitude toward yourself. You must use the affirmation immediately after having the negative thought, even if you don’t believe the affirmation. After continued use of this new habit, the negative thought will be replaced by the affirmation. Positive affirmations are most often “I am…” statements.

In addition, you should use a coping thought/positive statement for each difficult or distressing situation. Make sure to write them out ahead of time so that you have them handy for when the situations occur. Examples of these include: ‘My mind is not always my friend’ and ‘Thoughts are just thoughts – they’re not necessarily true or factual’. Please view the worksheet attached at the end of this post for more examples.

Having a higher self-esteem will give you a higher self worth so you don’t have to depend on others for these emotions or feelings. A higher self-esteem will allow to feel motivation, encouragement and empowerment to reach your goals and dreams.

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  1. Positive Affirmations
  2. Self-Esteem
  3. Low Self-Esteem
  4. Positive Statements Worksheet

Preferences Not Expectations

“You cannot live with expectations because life has no obligation to fulfill your desires. You can live with an open heart, but you cannot live with expectations.” ~Osho

Preferences not expectations. This has been my mantra lately. I need to learn to have preferences over having expectations. My expectations are only letting me down. In the end, they aren’t helping me, they are only hurting.

Expectations are defined as the act or state of looking forward or anticipating or to regard as likely to happen. It’s good to have high expectations regarding certain events or people, but having consistently high expectations can leave you upset and saddened when they are unfulfilled. Rather, I have been told that it is better to have preferences because they aren’t as set in stone as expectations.

Preferences are defined as a greater liking for one alternative over another or others. Having preferences means that you are less likely to be disappointed when things don’t go the way you plan because you have no expectations for it to follow your plans. It is also good to have a solid grasp on reality. If reality is lower than we expect our lives to be, we tend to be discontent and unhappy.

I guess you could say I have high expectations for my life that have gone unfulfilled, which has led to the unhappiness I feel today. I need to let go of these expectations or at least make them more realistic so that I’m not so disappointed when my life doesn’t go as I planned. I am trying to learn that having preferences is better than having expectations because I won’t regard preferences as likely to happen as expectations. It’s one of the many changes I need to make to bring more happiness into my life.

By having preferences, I will be more in touch with reality and hopefully not as disappointed that my life has not gone as planned. I need to learn to live in the moment, being in touch with reality rather than living in the past or worrying about the future. I can’t change the past and the future will be what I make of it, and if I live in the present, I will be a better person for my future.

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Reality Expectations

Personality Disorders

Please view the post, ‘Personality’ for a definition and discussion on development of a personality. This also includes a brief outline of the clusters that personality disorders are grouped into. Personality disorders are also used as classifiers with depression.

There are many types of personality disorders and to simplify things, they are grouped into three clusters: Cluster A, Cluster B, and Cluster C.

Cluster A Personality Disorders

Cluster A disorders are characterized by odd and eccentric behavior or thinking. These disorders include paranoid personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder and schizotypal personality disorder.

  • Paranoid personality disorder is characterized by a lack of trust and suspicion of others, unjustified belief that others are ‘out to get you’, hesitancy to confide in others, angry or hostile reactions and a tendency to hold grudges. The essential feature for paranoid disorder is interpreting the actions of others as threatening or demeaning. This type of person may appear jealous, secretive and emotionally ‘cold’.
  • Schizoid personality disorder is characterized by a lack of interest in social or personal relationships, a preference to be alone, a limited range of emotional expression, inability to have pleasure in activities, and inability to pick up on normal social cues. The essential feature for schizoid disorder is appearing introverted, withdrawn, and distant. This type of person is often absorbed in their own thoughts and fears closeness with others.
  • Schizotypal personality disorder is characterized by peculiar dress, thinking, beliefs or behaviors, odd perceptual experiences, flat emotions, “magical thinking”, and the belief that casual incidents or events have hidden messages. The essential feature for schizotypal disorder is a pattern of peculiarities. This type of person has difficulty forming relationships and may act inappropriately during social interactions.

Cluster B Personality Disorders

Cluster B disorders are characterized by dramatic, overly emotional, or unpredictable thinking or behavior. These disorders include borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder.

  • Borderline personality disorder is characterized by impulsive and risky behaviors, unstable self-image and self-esteem, up and down moods, intense fear of abandonment, ongoing feelings of emptiness and intense displays of anger. The essential feature for borderline disorder is abrupt and extreme mood changes and self-destructive actions. This type of person is impulsive, self-destructive, socially dependent and have a difficulty with their sense of identity. This disorder is often misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder.
  • Antisocial personality disorder is characterized by a disregard for other’s needs or feelings, persistent lying and stealing, recurring problems with the law, aggressive behavior and lack of remorse for behavior. The essential feature for antisocial disorder involves ignoring social norms while acting out their conflicts, no respect for others and no remorse for their actions. They are at a higher risk for substance abuse because of their behaviors.
  • Narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by fantasies of power, success and attractiveness, failure to recognize other’s needs and feelings, exaggeration of achievements or talents, arrogance, and expectation of constant praise and admiration. The essential feature for narcissistic disorder involves having an exaggerated sense of self-importance and a constant need for attention. This type of person is over sensitive to failure and prove to extreme mood swings between self-admiration and insecurity.

Cluster C Personality Disorders

Cluster C disorders are characterized by anxious, and fearful behavior or thinking. These disorders include avoidant personality disorder, dependent personality disorder, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.

  • Avoidant personality disorder is characterized by sensitivity to criticism or rejection, feelings of inadequacy, inferiority or unattractiveness, avoidance of interpersonal contact, social inhibition and fear of disapproval, embarrassment or ridicule. The essential feature for avoidant disorder is excessive social discomfort. This type of person usually has no close relationships, although they would like to and are upset at their inability to relate well to others.
  • Dependent personality disorder is characterized by excessive dependence on others and the need to be taken care of, submissive or clingy behavior, fear of fending for yourself, lack of self-confidence, difficulty disagreeing with others and tolerance of poor or abusive treatment. The essential feature is a pattern of submissive and dependent behavior, rely on others to make decisions. This type of person is usually uncomfortable and helpless if they are alone and can be devastated if a relationship ends.
  • Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder is characterized by a preoccupation with details, orderliness and rules, extreme perfectionism, a desire to be in control, excessive commitment to work and an inability to discard broken or worthless objects.The essential feature for  obsessive-compulsive disorder is a striving for perfection and rare satisfaction with their achievements. This type of person is reliable, dependable and methodical, but inflexible to change. They are highly cautious and pay specific attention to detail.

This is just a brief summary of a few of the more typical personality disorders. Although you may identify with the traits of various disorders, a doctor would need to decide whether or not you should be diagnosed with it. Every person can identify with various aspects of personality disorders because no one person’s personality is perfect. We’re all different and that’s ok.

  1. Mayo Clinic
  2. Mental Health America
  3. American Psychological Association
  4. US National Library of Medicine
  5. Psychology Today