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 2020, October 27 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/recoveringfrommentalillness/2013/10/communication-and-mental-health-recovery
Author: Paulissa Kipp
I suffer from depression, I did seek help by attending counseling sessions and medication. The out come is each time I visit the doctor office I received a bill for co-payyments I cannot afford. The more I seek help the higher my debt becomes. The challenge of getting help with my depression vs. getting deeper in debt has become a sad to sadder subject to me.
Laura, very true. You cannot be an enabler. However, from all the comments I've read on both sides of the fence, there is never a discussion about the amount of time it takes to recover from an episode. Seems to me that the more serious an episode is, the more time it takes to recover. I've had episodes where I did not feel pressured (probably because I simply didn't involve anyone in it), and the recovery time was hard, but much shorter. Negative exchanges - no matter how well meaning - is just not helpful. But of course I understand it isn't an easy situation all the way around.
Very informative. Alot to think about.
Regarding "If your loved one asks you to stop a behavior...", I think there needs to be clarification about the risks of "enabling". Asking a child to spend 18 years accommodating the bizarre OCD rituals of a parent with OCD in order to relieve the parent's "anxiety" is not a healthy course of action for either person. I believe this applies whether the relationship is parent-child or partner-partner or friend-friend. I have found that some people with mental illness attempt to use their "disability" as a source of power over the other person. Rather than constructively working on healthy ways to live with their mental illness, they hang the handicap placard from their forehead and essentially demand that others accommodate their every whim and mood. I liken this to a person with lung cancer who continues to smoke and doesn't tolerate anyone attempting to get him to quit smoking or a blind person who purposely walks out into the flow of traffic and expects the fact that he is blind to make his actions acceptable. I mean no disrespect to anyone; I speak as both a loved one with a mental illness AND one who loves someone with a mental illness.
Thank you for this well written piece. I thought the advise was very helpful and was explained clearly. Hopefully many will read this, think about it and work on things that could be improved. It matters so much! Thanks again.
Solid advice for loved ones - that is, if they will listen to it. Most often, they will not. There is no way you can communicate with anyone who is not receptive. Better to just talk about the weather of something neutral.
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.