Updated: Jan 30, 2019
Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices, and is important at every stage of our lives.
Mental illnesses are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood, or behaviour associated with significant distress and impaired functioning. Mental health can sometimes be similar to physical health, fluctuating from time to time with good periods transitioning into bad periods or vice versa. Other disorders are more persistent, requiring life-long talk therapy, medication, or both.
The total number of 12- to 19-year-olds in Canada at risk for developing depression is a staggering 3.2 million. Think of the Rogers Centre in downtown Toronto and imagine it’s completely full. Now imagine 60 Rogers Centres that are completely full. That’s the number of 12- to 19-year-olds at risk for developing depression.
How to Help Someone with a Mental Health Disorder
For starters, if someone has disclosed to you that they are suffering from a mental health issue, take a moment to consider what an honour it is that this person trusts you with such a personal piece of information. Now, take it upon yourself to research what that issue entails. There are great resources online to help you understand that depression is about more than just “not being able to get out of bed” and that anxiety is more complicated than “worrying a lot.” Educate yourself so you can be more aware of the world in which they live. (This site is a great place to start.)
Once you have the basic knowledge of what a mental health disorder is, ask your friend/family member/significant other what it means for them. After all, mental health disorders can present themselves in different ways for different people.
2. Listen to them when they talk.
Negative thoughts are a symptom of a variety of mental health disorders, and sometimes they’re all-consuming and completely debilitating. When someone decides to talk to you about what’s on their mind, truly listen to them. I don’t mean the type of listening where you’re looking at your phone or thinking about what you’re going to have for dinner. Turn your body towards them. Make eye contact. Give them your undivided attention. Set your damn phone aside and put it on silent. Don’t interrupt them and don't think about what you’re going to say next. Just take what they say at face value and let them feel heard. The feeling of being genuinely listened to is something that many people seldom feel outside of a therapy room and it goes a lot further than you might realize.
3. Let them know you’re there for them.
Tell them out loud that you will support them in any way you can. Remind them you’re not judging them, that it’s okay that they feel the way they’re feeling, and that you’re willing to help them get out of that “dark hole” they’re in with their permission.
4. Check in on them.
A text goes a long way. If you know they’re going through a hard time, a message as simple as, “I know you’re going through a bit of a tough time so I just wanted to check in on you” can make a big difference. Plus, messages like this open the door for the person to talk about what they're going through if they want to.
On the flip side, sometimes people might need a break from people in general—and that might include you. Don’t take it personally. Be respectful of their pace and know that they’ll reach out to you when they’re ready.
5. Understand that mental health disorders are just as legitimate as physical health disorders.
Sometimes phrases like “I’m depressed” or “I’m going to have an anxiety attack” get thrown around so loosely and trivially that it takes away from what those words actually mean—and how those disorders affect people. Mental health issues can be due to legitimate chemical imbalances in people’s brains that require medication. This is no different than a diabetic needing insulin or you “needing” an Advil when you have a headache. When someone says they’re depressed, they’re saying much, much more than “I’m sad a lot.” Refer to point 1.
6. Go out of your way to do something nice for them.
Make them a home cooked meal. Draw them a bath sometime. Take them to go see a comedy to get their mind off things. Brighten their day because things might not feel so bright for them at times.
The Bottom Line
I’m so pleased at the amazing strides we’ve made towards reducing the stigma around mental health issues and making therapy a more well-known, “acceptable” option for people who need support. Initiatives like Bell’s “Let’s Talk” are a great reminder of the value we place on helping those with mental illness, which truly warms my heart.
That being said, each and every one of us must continue to educate ourselves about this world so we can better help those around us and be less ignorant about what mental health issues mean.
And finally, I want to send a message to all of my readers who are dealing with some sort of mental health issue at the moment: I want to tell you that you’re important and fabulous and wonderful. Perhaps sometimes you get frustrated with your Anxiety, Depression, Bipolar Disorder, or what have you, but I want to tell you that the very disorder you can’t stand sometimes is also what makes you you. Those worries that get a grip over you sometimes might also be the reason you’re so driven at work and able to meet those deadlines that no one else can. Those deep, consuming emotions you feel might also be what allow you to process information deeply and thoughtfully—much deeper than surface-level thinkers with emotional intelligences of zero. We need people like you. We need your emotions and we need that unique brain of yours because you likely see the world in ways that many people don’t. And so, I’m thankful for each and every one of you. Keep being you.