I posted about how to help someone with a mental illness yesterday. I’d like to explore the flip side of that post here.
LOWAMI = Loved One With A Mental Illness.
1. Imply that they’re not working hard enough. Believe me, mental illness is exhausting. Telling a LOWAMI that they need to pray more, meditate more, try more things, speak to more people, read more books, or go more places is straight-up overwhelming. Encourage movement, but let them go at their own pace. Chances are, they’re doing all they can just to keep their heads above water.
2. Speak nothing but platitudes. “If He brought you to it, He’ll bring you through it!”, especially when spoken with an excessively chipper air and an enormous smile, is reprehensible. Words are not magical incantations that solve problems. Pithy sayings do not bring healing. “God has a plan”, when said to a person who feels like the bottom has just dropped out of their life, is not comforting. Asking how you can help is.
3. Assume they’re stupid. When you find out that someone has a diagnosis, don’t decide that every decision you ever disagreed with in the past must be a result of that mental illness. Just because we’re crazy doesn’t mean we’re idiots. Our lives still have validity, and that includes our judgments, even when you don’t agree with them. Don’t use a diagnosis as a chance to say “I told you so.”
4. Blame their circumstances. Mental illness is a chemical imbalance in the brain. It has nothing to do with the circumstances of someone’s life. A person is not driven crazy by children or husbands or wives or pets or jobs, no matter how common it is to say so. A clinically depressed person is going to be depressed no matter what their circumstances, because something is wrong in the brain. Don’t blame the stresses of a LOWAMI’s life for their illness.
5. Act like it’s a personality defect. Personality disorders are not the fault of the person suffering from them. I know this is hard to accept but contrary to popular opinion, you can’t actually do anything you want to do and be anything you want to be. Sometimes you simply don’t have the tools. It has been said that coping with a mental illness is like trying to peel a potato with another potato. Everybody tells you that you’re doing it wrong, that you need a peeler, but then they just keep handing you potatoes, expecting them to get peeled. Somebody just hand us a damn peeler, please.
6. Discourage treatment. Unless you are a complete asshole, you would never think of telling a sick person to go off high blood pressure meds, or stop taking insulin, or rip out their heart catheter. Mental illness requires treatment, and discouraging it because you think mental issues are separate somehow from “physical” issues (tell me, since when is the brain not a physical organ?) is dangerous and foolhardy.
7. Offer to help, and then don’t. Just stop offering. Please.
8. Constantly suggest alternatives to prescription drugs. Vitamins are good. Acupuncture is good. Essential oils are good. Nutrition is good. Prayer is good. Meditation is good. Voodoo witch doctors are good. Okay, maybe not so much that last one. The point is, these things are good, but we are tired. We are tired of everyone being certain they have the ONE THING that’s going to fix us up, FOR GOOD. Please don’t view our illness as the perfect platform for your latest MLM. We don’t want to be the poster child for “Manny’s Soul Wax” or whatever it is you’re selling.
9. Compare their progress with someone else’s. Just because someone else who is depressed has made a spectacular recovery on drugs X,Y or Z does not mean that another depressed person will have the same results. The brain is a complicated, squishy, sometimes mysterious organ. Everybody’s synapses fire differently. Everybody’s receptors react differently to different stimuli. Different people have different side effects. No one drug is going to solve all the problems for everybody. If your LOWAMI has switched medications it’s probably for a damn good reason. Don’t second guess.
10. Avoid them. We’re devastated, we’re floundering, we’re wondering who we are, we’re lost and afraid and uncertain. Now is not the time to bail. You don’t have to be our savior, just keep being our friend.