how to have a better relationship with someone living with mental illness

Welcome to the fourth part of a six part exploration of some of the things that may cause an empathy deficit in people when it comes to individuals living with mental illness. Following the opening blog post which posed the question about why there might be a mind health empathy deficit, in the first of the six pieces we looked at the link between preconceived values and beliefs, then we took a look at the impact of being in denial about one’s own or a loved one’s mental illness. Last month we looked at how a lack of awareness and education about mental illness can create an empathy deficit, as well as clarifying the causes of mental illness.

This month we taking a look see at how one’s personal discomfort might preclude an ability to be empathetic to those living with mental illness.

At its simplest, without awareness human beings don’t tend to move towards situations, experiences or people that make them uncomfortable or that might change the way something is done.

So the question you’re invited to consider this month is ‘how aware are you about your level of comfort with people living with a mood disorder or mental illness?’

For many of you, that answer will change depending on your experiences and exposure. And whether your experience and exposure generates fear, willingness to learn or acceptance.

If you have seen movies and TV shows, read news articles or books that have painted mental illness in a scary and violent light then you may be unaware just how impactful these messages might be on your comfort level with people living with mental illness. If you are aware that your current or past experiences of people with mental illness have influenced your responses, then there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to acknowledge your potential discomfort with people who are living with mental illness. You might feel afraid of being hurt. You might not like the idea of getting involved with something that might make you feel uncomfortable. Or you might feel it is someone else’s responsibility to step in and help someone in need. Either way, discomfort is the prevailing mood you may experience.

If you know that the media and entertainment industry portrayals of people with mental illness are by and large skewed to the sensational and inaccurate you might find yourself more willing to explore your relationships with people you know with a diagnosis more readily. Or you may be more open to interactions with people you don’t know who might be acting outside your normal range of experiences.

And then there are all those high functioning individuals with a mental illness diagnosis that you are unaware of. They are the people who don’t act out violently and their behaviours aren’t scary in the main because they are inside the range of normal behaviours you are used to experiencing.

So following are some suggestions I offer for you to think about. They start with some small ideas and move into some more courageous conversations.

  • take a look at what your previous responses have been to people with mental illness
  • if you think there is room to be less fearful and more engaged, what might that look like?
  • what conversations could you have to become more comfortable in talking with and being with someone with a diagnosed mental illness?
  • check in with how even contemplating those conversations makes you feel? Are you noticing any reasons for not having those conversations?
  • step into a conversation about mental health with a family member, friend or colleague. Dip your toe into the water first.
  • hang out, have a conversation with someone who lives with mental illness. It could be a carer, a mental health worker or someone with a lived experience of mental illness.

Next month: Ain’t nobody go time for that…
…how a busy life, that’s filled with personal, family and employment challenges can put those with mental illness low on the list of priorities.

Why? Because mind health matters!

jacqui chaplin | |