Good Communication and Mental Health Support
Communication is challenging for many of us from time to time. For those with a mental health diagnosis and his or her support team, good communication is imperative.
Phrases and Actions to Avoid
If you have a family member or loved one living with a mental health condition, here are things to consider in your communication strategy.
- Don’t tell your loved one that how he or she feels is “selfish”. You wouldn’t tell someone that he or she doesn’t deserve to feel ______ amount of happiness. It’s the same concept, really.
- If your loved one asks you to stop a behavior because it is causing anxiety, is a trigger, etc, STOP immediately. Your failure to do so speaks volumes about your love for the sufferer. Not immediately stopping the behavior ramps up the anxieties even more and when your partner believes you cannot be trusted, all bets are off. The mind wanders to self-doubt, lack of self-worth, wondering why am I not important enough to respect or protect, suicidal thoughts, thought of self-harm and more.
- Do not mock your partner when he or she asks for you to stop talking and listen, when told that your noise (radio, voice, etc) is overwhelming. Do not be facetious. Do not say things such as “Do I need to send up a flare every time I enter a room because you startle so easily?” That is not helpful and merely drives a farther wedge between you and your partner.
- Do not feign ignorance and say “I didn’t know ______ was a trigger for you” if your partner has clearly communicated that it is. Your partner isn’t buying it. Forgetting is understandable from time to time, but your partner will pay attention to pattern and frequency. Forgetting and do a behavior once in a month or less frequently – you are more likely to be forgiven or believed. More frequently and it seems like a choice and recklessness with your partner’s feelings and wishes.
- Beginning a statement with Why? Can be a trigger for your loved one. We want people to treat us with kindness, even if they don’t understand our actions. Having to explain to people solves nothing and has the effect of making your loved one feel judged, thereby adding to stigma and anxiety.
- Beginning a statement with "just" as if it the desired behavior is simple to achieve and your loved one isn’t making an effort to change or cope."Just think positive."
"Just get over it."
"Just think about something else."
"There are poor children in Africa/people who suffer from cancer/homeless people who are worse off than you."
"Come on. It cannot be this bad."
"You are making it up."
"You don't have a reason to feel that way, just stop."
"You are only focused on yourself. Come back when you're not so selfish anymore."
"So you don't know a reason for your feelings? Then stop it."
"All you want is to get attention."
- Comparing one person’s circumstances to your loved ones’. If your loved one needs inspiration for succeeding with a mental illness, he or she will find it on his or her own. Your attempts, while possibly well-intentioned, only create further overwhelm.
- If offering self-help books, frame your offer in terms of “You may find this information helpful.” If your loved one refuses, graciously allow that to be the end of the conversation.
More Loving Ways to Communicate:
- Ask what you can do to help. At times, your loved one may need silence, sleep, a massage, music, a hug, a mug of tea, etc. Do what you can to facilitate that.
- Offer affection.
- Let your loved one know that you are concerned FOR him or her, not scared OF him or her.
- Communicate to your loved one that his or her challenges do not affect your love for that person. Many sufferers worry that their challenges will lead to abandonment by friends and family.
Kipp, P. (2013, October 20). Good Communication and Mental Health Support, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 15 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/recoveringfrommentalillness/2013/10/communication-and-mental-health-recovery
Author: Paulissa Kipp
Nevertheless, if someone is open to it, this is a good guideline for those who wish to support their loved ones through a trying time. Thanks.