Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Mental Illness: Part I

When your friend gets a cold, you make her tea and bring her soup. When your father drops a chainsaw on his foot, you call 911 and put the severed toe in a plastic bag in a bowl of ice (never the digit directly on the ice). What do you do when someone hurts in their soul from mental illness? I’ve interviewed nearly a dozen friends dealing with mental illness in themselves and loved ones to find out how best to support your loved ones when the ish hits the mental fan. Here's the first in the series of posts.

Don't try to "fix" the problem, because you can't.
While everyone else is saying, "Things'll get better!" because they're supposed to say things like that, the friend that acknowledges, "Dude, that fucking sucks" is a friend indeed. Imagine, you feel the Feds are out to get you, but since you’ve been diagnosed schizophrenic, you tell yourself they probably aren't. You see cars coming at you even though you're outside your apartment and nowhere near the freeway, so you will yourself to keep walking. But you know with certainty that this situation sucks, and there is no cure - but then everyone around you tells you that everything's actually going to be ok! Wouldn't that just make you crazy?

It's painful to see someone you love suffering, and you feel compelled to do something, but this is not the time for platitudes and cheery kitten cards. Things that cheer up most people don’t work for someone in the valley of clinical depression. Remember that mental illness is an issue of the brain muscle, not willpower. Resist the urge to barrage your loved one with suggestions to solve the problem. Chances are, he or she has already thought through many of your suggestions, as they're merely sick, not stupid, so let the doctors do their job.

Do educate yourself
People who are fortunate enough to get their mental illnesses diagnosed have one of two stories to tell about their loved ones’ reactions: either they felt abandoned (by a parent, for example) who refused to acknowledge or learn about the illness, OR they felt loved when a beloved went out and read every book on their diagnosis. The most genuine gesture of support you can give is to educate yourself about your love's diagnosis.
More do's and don'ts of supporting your loves with mental illnesses to come. Meanwhile, I'm still taking stories and ideas. Peace!


  1. My mom had a mental illness and died when I was ten. I never understood what was going on that time. 10 Years later I talked with my dad about it and learned about her illness. I never knew before what was really going on...

  2. Great post, Ivy. It's also important, I think, to not be afraid of your loved one. Ask questions and convey your own feelings. Make sure that fear of saying the wrong thing doesn't make you not say anything at all.

  3. I don't think I've ever loved anyone more than when I happened upon my girlfriend seated in a Barnes and Noble cafe with a stack of books on schizophrenia. It's someone special who will help you draw protection sigils on your arms when you're sure Illuminadi psychics are trying to hijak your mind. None of its been easy, even with meds and counseling, but Bahiya does her best to make it bearable and I love her for it.

  4. You know me and you love me...and his hit close to home. It's hard to love and be loved when you have a mental illness. Sometimes people just mistake MI for being irascible.

    Thank you! This helped my relationship (you know my SO, too). When will we get Part II?

  5. I swear I'm working on it! Holla at me offline with your stories, and the posts will come along faster.

  6. Thanks Ivy - I am a depression sufferer and am actually working on a book dealing with the issue of how people deal with the mentally Ill. Your article is well stated and appreciated



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