Do you have a family member or friend who is suffering from Anxiety or Depression?
It can be very difficult to watch someone you love suffer from these conditions. There is also a danger that the strain can take it's toil on you so although you are committed to helping your loved one to recover, you do also have to be mindful of your own physical and mental health too. It can be very much a balancing act and a very stressful period of time for all involved.
Invisible illnesses such as Anxiety or Depression, that are very real but not visible to family and friends can be especially daunting to deal with. They can put enormous strain on the person suffering and everyone around them.
Just because people cannot see it, it doesn't mean it's not there.
So how can you be supportive of something that you cannot see and help the person that you love become themselves again in the correct way without secondary problems occurring.
In my opinion, this starts with understanding and knowledge of the conditions themselves. Knowing what to expect can make things easier to allow for and cope with, so do as much research as you can, and then you can form a plan moving forwards.
I think it is wonderful as a family member or friend that you are reading this page and wanting to know what is expected of you in your role of helping someone pull through a mental health difficulty. I'm sure the person you love is very lucky to have your support.
I know first hand, that going through this can be a very lonely journey and just having someone around who tries to understand can really help.
I used to feel very shameful that I suffered, I was more than aware of the stress I was placing on myself and my family, but could not seem to stop my symptoms.
I suppose like any illness it takes time and understanding to get well again. But I felt under pressure to make things right immediately for both mine and my families sake and in hindsight this self imposed reluctance to accept my issue and lack of acceptance that this would take some time, made things worse in the short term. The stigma and shame associated with these conditions often causes your loved one to hide and suppress their feelings where possible, this can also makes things worse in the long term.
Holding no belief or understanding because we feel that what we cannot see must not exist, seems to be the biggest problem.
People who have never suffered from this kind of thing, cannot possibly understand how this must feel, but that does not mean that it does not exist. In fact one in three can be suffering at any one time. With numbers increasing all the time. Due to the increases in stress in daily life, symptoms like these are becoming more and more common.
My own opinion is that an upset mind can be a very painful thing, I often found it difficult to cope by the minute never mind everyday and on top of this I also felt the added pressure of trying to carry on as normal, no one else could see there was anything wrong with me.
When we suffer from this, we desperately want to feel normal again and so we try to carry on as we did before, but this makes us worse, almost like if we had a broken leg, refusing to accept that it is broken and trying to carry on walking on it without a pot on. It just could not happen. There are two major contributing factors to making these conditions stay around:
- The person with the condition trying to pretend it is not there, resisting their symptoms and suppressing their feelings. They need to accept that this is a period of time in their own life when things need to slow down and self care and acceptance for where they are right now needs attention above everything else.
- The people around them, not understanding the same. It may be invisible, but it is very there and very real and very debilitating. Expecting someone with a mental health condition to carry on with normal function and then getting very frustrated when they can't just because you do not understand, is like forcing someone with a broken leg to continue to walk on it with no treatment. It creates pain, friction, shame, frustration and ultimately serves no purpose other than to make things worse.
Relations often get frustrated and shout at their loved one to get on with things and pull themselves together as things need doing, which in turn can cause the sufferer to feel depressive symptoms such as strong feelings of guilt for putting the people around them through this. Believe me, I know from experience that despite every effort, pulling myself together at that time was nigh on impossible no matter how much I tried.
I understand that relations don't mean to be cruel, it's a natural reaction as they cannot see or comprehend the degree of suffering that this person is going through, nor can they relate to it in anyway, so its hard and frustrating for them too. Using once again the broken leg as an example, If someone has a broken leg, we can see it and sympathise that it must be painful. We also accept that the leg will take time to heal and that the person with the broken leg will need time to rest and recover. That is the difference.
The shame and stigma surrounding conditions such as Anxiety and Depression cause many people to keep how they feel secret, to hide away, not tell anyone and often not seek treatment or help for their issues.
This causes the situations to go on much longer than they ever need to.
They believe that people will not understand or that people may think they are crazy or will think differently about them. This causes shame and embarrassment and secrecy.
This is why it's so important that opinions towards Mental Health conditions have to change.
Anxiety is suppressed feelings and so keeping feelings stuck inside only cause more problems, but by feeling accepted and able to talk to people about how they are feeling in a positive and encouraging way, will really help recovery and allow that person feel supported.
As a relative you may well have days where this frustrates you like hell and you don't understand things at all, but your efforts into trying to understand and allow for this behaviour whilst just being there, is more invaluable than you will ever realise.
These conditions can be such a lonely experience, but it does not have to be this way.
You do not have to know how this feels or understand it fully, just let your loved one know you are there and will help where you can. Just try to believe that it is very real to them.
A lack of understanding and a bad attitude can really hinder recovery. It puts even more pressure on your loved one to look and act how they did when they were well, which as I know firsthand is incredibly difficult to cope with.
For your loved one, this is a journey they will never forget, nor will they be able to forget how people react to them when they really need them. This is really important.
The person you love is still there underneath all this, just waiting to re surface and this will pass. Their Anxiety and Depression is not them, just a small part of who they are at the moment that's all.
With all the above in mind its helpful to follow some tips to help care for your loved one during their journey through Depression/ Panic symptoms, don't feel helpless there is lots you can do to support them through this difficult time:
- Understand that just because you do not see it or understand it does not mean it's not there.
- Plans often have to be changed to accommodate Anxiety or Depression, situations or places that would normally be looked forward to or have been planned need to be avoided at times, this can be very frustrating for everyone involved.
- Remember like any illness, a mental health problem can strike anytime and does not care that you have a loving family, everything material you could possibly want or appointments in your diary.
- The person suffering is more than their Anxiety or Depression. No one would like to be defined totally by a single attribute of them, never forget that there is more to that person than just their mental health condition.
- The person suffering will want nothing more than to recover as quick as possible and become themselves again, rest assured that they will resent the way they feel and the missed situations that were looked forward to as much as you do.
- Allow for your loved one to be irritated and frustrated while they get a handle of their symptoms, they do not mean to take anything out on you.
- Anxiety and Depression can be overwhelming. Sufferers can be very hyper tense and focus inwards, monitoring their moods and feelings to the extent that they fail to notice life going on around them. However this internal monitoring has the effect that they become aware of all the background noise and potential threat that if you were not anxious you would not notice. Background noises such as money rattling in tills in shops, actions or sudden movements of others, smells become over powering, lighting etc. All this new awareness can be very frightening and overwhelming. I stopped seeing things as others did, I felt frightened and unsettled in normal situations and often like I was going crazy.
- When trying to encourage someone with anxiety to go somewhere, just keep in mind that the stimuli you enjoy can just as easily be overwhelming for them while they are in this hyper state. Try not to lock them into the situation. Ensure they know they can leave and are capable of doing so at any point. Have a code word which tells you when they are unable to cope.
- Anxiety and Depression are exhausting as they cause people to live in a hyper tense state, always on alert with a very unsettled mind. People with Anxiety especially are always on the edge of the fight or flight response. With this constant high alert comes massive fatigue. So situations that people with no Anxiety just do without thinking can be exhausting for someone with Anxiety. An example would be for you to have a very intense month at work, where you are under pressure to hit deadlines, all that whilst still juggling your family commitments. You would be wishing for a let up in your crazy schedule as you feel exhausted, but this feeling is everyday sometimes for months or even years at a time for an anxious person.
- Try not to pressure the person to get better, these conditions have to be worked through and can take some time to get a handle on, but once they do recovery can be rapid. They do feel as frustrated as you, they often can be rational about it, but still won't be able to stop it.
Being aware of the irrationality does not stop the thoughts from racing. It does not stop the thinking of hundreds of different worst-case scenarios. If it was as easy as saying “okay, that’s irrational – no point worrying about it,” the majority of those living with anxiety would not have problems with it anymore. One of the worst things about anxiety is how aware of the irrationality they can be. Pointing out that it’s irrational doesn't help – they already know this. What they need is compassion, understanding, and support.
- Encourage the person suffering to talk things out and not to keep feelings stuck inside where they will fester
- Do not Panic when your loved one Panic's, the best thing you can do is carry on as normal and encourage that person to do the same till the feelings pass.
- The person suffering will be very negative and will see the negative in any situation for example: if they panic while out they may get half way down the road panic and come home without visiting where they need to go. They will tend to focus on the fact that they panicked and didn't get there. It really helps at this point to point out the fact that they still made the effort to try and at least completed part of the journey when they could have just not bothered. Pointing out the positives really helps them see that there is hope.
- Help them break down each task into manageable chunks, when we are in the grips of these conditions even something as simple as making tea can seem like climbing mount Everest. Encourage them to break each task down into manageable chunks that helps them to complete it.
- This person needs you.
- This person does understand that this is difficult for you too, they will be very aware of this. Take time out for yourself too, just some quiet time or time with friends. Your mental health care is important too.
- Try to live your normal life where you can so you don't feel too restricted by the Anxiety or Depression.
- Once this person comes through this they will never forget what you did for them or who was there for them.
Remember offering any person support through a mental health difficultly is one of the kindest and most significant things that you can do for anyone. They will never forget your effort to try to understand and the compassion you have shown towards them. I know I didn't and having these people around me and feeling supported, helped me to face my issues head on, emerge and become the person I was once again. My relationships with these people became stronger than ever. You never know, one day it could be you needing the same support.