This blog post was written by Serina Hajje for vibewire who have kindly shared it with us – a fantastic read with great tips for helping out a friend or loved one..
Living with a mental illness is reality that many Australians struggle with:
Those are big statistics that mean you either know a person suffering from a mental illness or you are suffering from one. Or both.
Rather than throw a page of statistics, I’m going to share my experiences that I had with a friend. For the sake of privacy, I’m changing her name to Sam, and this her story.
Sam was diagnosed with a chemical imbalance in her brain at a young age. The way the doctors explained it to her and her family was that she had more ‘sad’ cells than ‘happy’ ones. She was given medication to balance those chemicals but there is no known cure. At the age of 16 she was diagnosed with bipolar.
I met Sam in high school when we were both in year 9. My first impression of her was that she had to be the happiest and most energetic person I had ever met. She always smiled, and it was a large and wide smile. This is perhaps the most dangerous trait of having a mental illness: it’s invisible. If someone had pulled up the sleeves of her shirt to see her wrists, then you might have known how she really felt about herself, but on the surface she was a bubbly teenage girl.
It wasn’t until a few months after our first meeting that Sam told me about her illness. She was an open person, and she wanted to be helped. The only problem was that I didn’t know how to help. The school curriculum does talk a lot about mental health but when it comes down to the ‘helping,’ the only advice is to tell your family and to go to a doctor.
But Sam had already done that. She saw a psychologist every month but she was worried about the costs. She had seen some of the free local services but the only benefit that I saw it gave her was a small emotional release.
Sam had a lot of friends and a few of us knew what she was going through. We did what we thought was best. When you’ve never experienced the highs and lows of an illness it’s hard to understand or to not judge. I’ve heard people criticise those who suffer from such illnesses to ‘get over it’ or that they’re ‘just seeking attention’. To those people I want to ask them to be less egotistical. You’ll never know what someone else is suffering through. Every person will always remain an unsolvable mystery so don’t judge but listen.
What I did for Sam certainly wasn’t a miracle. I’m not sure if I made a difference, I can only hope that I did, and I hope it will help you:
Be open and listen to the person who is suffering. You may not be able to give any advice (they may not even listen to it) but simply being ‘there’ is dong more good than you know because you’re telling them that they’re not alone.
Don’t judge! Just shut up and listen.
There were also two valuable treasures in Sam’s life that kept her going:
Pets are miracle workers. Sam always said that if she ever killed herself, her family would be able to move on but Lucky (her dog) was the only one who needed her. People need to feel that they are relied upon – pets provide that. Lucky probably saved Sam more times than any medication or psychologist session could.
Books/movies/songs. These are all forms of escape. There is no cure for Sam’s illness and when she’s going through her lows, diving into a fictional world gave her relief from the harsher one she was living in.
Sam is one out of many Australians who suffer various forms of a mental illness. But that doesn’t mean that her illness defined her. We share great memories and that is what Mental Health Week is about:
Celebrate new memories and friendships.
Connect with people: we are more alike than different.
Grow from these experiences and people. That’s the only way forward.
Also check the related topics:Supporting a friend with a mental illness