Sunday, 17 April 2016

Mental Health - How do I help?

In this world of Organisations like Beyond BlueBlack Dog InstituteSANE AustraliaMental Health Online and such public personal accounts of experiences of Depression as this recent one by Doug Leddin, we realise there is now an awareness of Mental Health being 'a thing' and that is a start.

But is that enough?  The short answer to that is NO.

Simply knowing Mental Health Conditions exist, does nothing to support the people who are living with them, or, struggling with them. We need practical information that can be used to support them.

We now also have 'It's Ok To Say' Campaign', which aims to raise awareness of Depression and Anxiety in the same way the Pink Ribbon has worked for Breast Cancer. And that is a great initiative, but how does that encourage people to act to support those with these conditions?

We have, what is a quite well known Campaign called R U OK?, which I have my feelings about and have blogged about before here. But does this really provide the practical answer to the question, "How do I help?"

I must at this point say, as I usually do when I write these pieces, that this is my opinion only. There are many other opinions on this and many other perspectives. Every person's experience of life, Anxiety, Depression and the World in general is different. That is probably the first point to keep in mind in answering the question ... "How do I help?" 

(I may also at times only use the word Depression here, understand however, it often and usually, goes hand in hand with Anxiety)

I have had my say a few times on this, here for example, as I have a very committed belief that people need connection! ALL people, and so it follows, people who have Mental Health Conditions, need more consideration, because, somewhat ironically, many Mental Health Conditions actually bring about a state of mind where a person withdraws socially or completely from society, when in fact what that person needs is to feel included and valued. This can only come about with connection.

Often this is not just because of the Depression or the Anxiety or, any other condition, it can be because they are sick and tired themselves, of only having their experience of Mental Health to talk about, to live ... and seemingly, nothing else to share or contribute.

I believe in a thing called "An experience of hope" ... I found this expression in a book I once read called The Bear's Embrace. It was offered as support from a Doctor to their Patient who, no matter how they treated their Depression, felt they were not making a substantial progression. Life just kept throwing itself at her.

This idea is like the saying 'building on your achievements', to achieve great things in life, often one just needs to achieve one small thing. Small achievements bring with them some confidence, a sense of ability, a sense of pride and worth, value. Those, are the things that move a person forward to a better place within.

How can a person with Depression improve their situation if their experience is only Depression? How can they heal in the environment which has made them unwell?

When we as humans encounter other humans we build a 'Catalogue of Experiences' (some good, some bad and many in between), we step out of ourselves, we might even physically step out of our homes, we can then have 'other' experiences, which we can then talk about, and so on, this then becomes our 'new experience'. Eventually building a staircase to follow to a better place or building a 'Collage of Hope".

Depression, however, is a vicious downward cycle and requires an upward push to help overcome it.

YOU! As a friend, family member, partner, neighbour, adult child, colleague, volunteer etc., can help to break that cycle, provide an upward push. Help another person have an Experience of Hope.

Many people have those human supports around them, but their supports have become "used to the status quo", they watch their person with Depression and/or Anxiety live with it, they do not check in as frequently, they do not drop in for a cup of tea or coffee, they do not invite them to functions or dinner or BBQs, because that person never comes ... by not inviting them, you might just overlook the one day they might have come.

It can be very difficult to be the person supporting a person with Depression, that is why it is even more important for many people to be involved, share the caring. Instead of committing to two phone calls per week each of an hour, have two people make one call each, have 4 people make a call each per fortnight, aim for half an hour, whatever it takes, if you are concerned, it is worth it! As is said to those enduring life's difficulties, It Will Get Better. For those supporting, It Will Get Easier.

Just turning up with a smile after an extended period of disconnection, isn't enough, it is also a much harder role for the support person to perform. When a person who has a Mental Health Condition, and is continually experiencing Life's struggles, has to recount a month of their experience all in one go, nobody wins! That experience only helps them to relive the experience and depletes the energy of the people who care. It is also considered re-traumatising. This is why regular contact is important. And, the more regular, the less time is needed overall.

So, if I have not made it clear and managed to espouse the importance of consistent Connection ... here is the mantra ... STAY IN TOUCH!

Keep up to date in a personal way. Not on Facebook which by the way is just another means of communication, not a real life experience, or by email, which is so impersonal and originally meant for business communication. Having people you know and people you engage with, are two very different concepts.

The sound of a human voice provides more connection that you can know, seeing the expressions on the face of another helps people to remember and experience emotions they may have forgotten. Human contact provides experiences of Hope. If you are still not convinced, watch the video below by clicking on the link below the image ... The Beauty of Human Connection

And finally, commit half an hour a week to your person who is struggling, or any person you care about. Give them something to look forward to, help them build their 'Collage of Hope'.

It might just do you some good too.

If you or anyone you know is in need of support, use the links at the top of this page to seek support or referral, or contact Lifeline on 13 11 14

This, for your listening pleasure ... fantastic version
Just click on the link below the image.