Mental Health Guilt

Mental health awareness among millennials has become so common, so much that the topic of depression is becoming less and less taboo in today’s generation, which is great. Nonetheless, in some cultures mental health is less talked about than others, therefore, less accepted as an illness that can be managed if one seeks the right services.

While living in Congo (DRC) over the last 2 months, I have had to live with close family member(s) who are obviously battling with severe depression. It is interesting to see how different love ones react to this situation differently. As one who has previously worked in community-based mental health projects, I see my family member battling with depression the same way that I see someone who battles with a long term heart condition, sadly society doesn’t always see it that way. One illness gets stigmatized; the other often gets sympathy.
When dealing with someone close to you who is going through a severe mental illness, whether it’s depression, bipolar disorder, multiple personality disorder, you name it, here are some things to keep in mind that have helped me along the way:
·      Know when to take a step back and let the other person be sad. Those of us who are often on a high of happiness, we struggle relating or understanding those who seem to enjoy what we perceive as misery (being sad). However, it is key to understand that everyone has his or her journey, and yours may be different than someone else’s.
·      Seeking the right (professional) help does not make the mentally ill person weak, instead it makes them strong and as a support system, you should cheer he/she on for taking this first step. Just like a cardiologist specializes in the heart condition of those battling with it, a psychologist and/or counsellor specializes in providing the right help for those with a mental illness. Use their services, they went to school for it.
·      Do not stigmatize, patronize or attack someone battling with a mental illness, thinking that it will address or ‘cure’ the problem, it won’t. As one who loves and wants to support a friend or family member battling with mental health, it is best to continue living your life as you would if you didn’t know that this person had a mental illness, as hard as that can be. In some cultures, people often don’t understand the magnitude of mental health; therefore they resort to isolating or yelling at the person suffering in hope of changing them for what you consider to be ‘a better life for them’. This won’t work.
·      Learning to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. It is ok to acknowledge that, you know what this sucks! It is discouraging and exhausting having to care for someone who you want to see get well so badly, but they do not seem capable to do it on their own, hence the mental ‘illness’ piece. However, this circles back to understanding that someone else’s journey isn’t your own. It is also important to take time for yourself to get recharged (self care), and not feel obligated to make caring for someone else your end all.
Mental health is real, not a fictional condition that people choose to have. Although it can be discouraging and feel emotionally exhausted when having to care for someone with a mental illness, it is so much more rewarding to continue loving them and know that eventually with the right external help, things will be get better.

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