Mental Health and Social Responsibility
We need to normalize mental health care by recognizing that we all are vulnerable and we all need help from time to time.
Your Morals Blog had an essay titled “How to Prevent Mental Illness: Help others with their stressful life events” (see essay here: http://www.yourmorals.org/blog/2012/12/how-to-prevent-mental-illness-help-others-with-their-stressful-life-events/ It was written by Ravi Iyer.
In the essay Iyer’s talks about myths about mental health and how and why we might help people who are suffering and why society might benefit and how we might benefit as well.
The first myth is that we can’t do anything to help people with mental health problems. this isn’t true. The reality is that only a portion of what is considered mental health has to do with disorders of the brain. And even those are often a matter of degree. What people need help with is coping with the stressors of life. And this is true for everyone, regardless of what state your brain is in. If we can help people deal with stress, we can have a tremendous positive impact on the overall level of mental health in our society.
The other myth is that mentally ill people aren’t us. We are healthy, everyone else is bonkers. And that isn’t true either. Perfectly healthy people can be made to break if the stress placed upon them is great enough. Breaking is not a sign of weakness, it is an indication that what just happened to you was pretty darned severe.
The point of this is that instead of looking down on people who aren’t handling stress well, perhaps we should try to be a bit more compassionate with them, and with ourselves. After all, how many of us are willing to go to a therapist for help when we probably really should?
I participate in an online group Grief Beyond Belief and it always amazes me how nobody but me seems to recommend therapists when grief becomes overwhelming. There is an assumption we can get through things on our own and that’s just not true! Humans are social animals. Having people to support us and help us helps lower our levels of stress and that helps us cope with stress much better. Instead of encouraging people to remain strong and to get through it on their own, we should be encouraging them to reach out actively to real life people who can assist them in a more tangible way.
And this doesn’t just mean, we should be encouraging people to go to therapists. We also need to be available to our neighbors and friends and complete strangers. And this is what is the most hard. When people are broken, and I mean really broken, it is a scary thought to assist them. What if they can’t be helped. What if they are just going to suck the life right out of us and drag us into their drama. And that’s a legitimate fear because it does happen.
However, I think there are ways that we can assist people in need without allowing ourselves to be their latest victim. And that is by offering help but by also setting up boundaries. For instance, I am trying to help a neighbor at the moment who is overwhelmed. I won’t go into the details but there is a lot going on that is wrong for her right now. Some of it is transportation related, some of it is poverty, some of it is physical health and she is definitely dealing with depression as a result. The challenge is to help while not becoming a doormat or making her dependent. What I am trying to do is help her get connected to the resources of the county (she is new to the area), that way she can develop a support network of people and groups that can assist her with the things she needs help with so that she isn’t reliant on one person to help her with everything she needs help with.
Did she get through this? Actually, she did. Within about a month, she was over the worst of the depression and thanking me for being there for her when she really needed it.All I did was encourage her to do the work and provide her with information on the resources she needed. I didn’t fix her. She fixed herself. All she needed was a little help and encouragement. It cost me very little to get her bus information. It cost me very little to get her a map to the local DMV which is only a few blocks away. It cost me very little to drop her off at the community center which is on my way to my son’s school. Those are little ways I was able to help her which, you made a huge difference for her.
Is it heartbreaking to be involved with people whose lives are literally falling apart? Yeah. But our fear and discomfort shouldn’t stop us from being the caring people we know we should be. We need to help people in the way we hope other people will help us if we were in their situation. Yes, we need to create boundaries for ourselves, but we need to make sure those boundaries aren’t so high that we lose our ability to be an active part of the community, not just for the people who are doing well, but for those who need a little extra help as well.