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Invisible Illnesses

What’s the common thread with all the comments below? Maybe you have said one of these to someone. Maybe you have said one of these statements or a similar one while talking about someone else’s behaviour.

  • “Cheer up, you’ll be fine.”
  • “We all have bad days, I get it.”
  • “You have problems? I know people with real problems.”
  • “Just do it-what are you waiting for?”
  • “You just need to relax. What are you stressed about?”
  • “What’s one piece of candy going to do? Make you fat?”

Mental illness is still a topic surrounded by negative stigma. You break your leg and you receive sympathy and support. You mention you are dealing with a mental illness or supporting someone with a mental illness, and the room clears. Or you hear comments like the ones above.  Alternatively, you meet somebody who listens, cares, and provides support that you need. If only it was this easy.

What is a mental illness? Mental illnesses are conditions in which an individual’s thinking, mood, and behaviours negatively impact their day-to-day functioning. This includes depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, eating disorders, addictions, and dementia. You may not have a diagnosed mental illness but have poor mental health due to a life event. Mental illness and poor mental health are not conflicting terms, and a diagnosis, or lack of one, doesn’t define a person and their experiences.

If you haven’t had experiences with mental illness yourself, it can be difficult to understand or help someone going through a mental illness. You cannot see where they are hurting, and it can be an overwhelming topic to address. How can you help?

  1. Educate yourself. Knowing how a mental illness works can provide insight to behaviours. Not only the behaviours of others but perhaps you’ll learn something about yourself and your own thought patterns.
  2. Ask what the person needs from you. Listen. Don’t dismiss a person’s experience or provide advice that isn’t wanted.
  3. Make boundaries for yourself and seek help if needed.
  4. Be open with the people you love. It’s okay to be vulnerable about your mental health and asking for help.

Remember: Listen to someone when they need to talk. If they are in crisis, call 911 immediately. Mental health is just as important as physical health.

How have you changed your perspectives on mental health in the last few years?

-Merissa

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