I am currently in training to become a Mental Health First Aider in Scotland, and have brought this course to the attention of my employer. Subsequently, they have now approached other people in my organisation to encourage more to be trained in this much needed resource within the workplace.
But… “How can the mentally ill help the mentally ill?”
I’ve heard this said before and I’ve heard it said again this week. It’s just another misconception about people with a mental illness, implying that we aren’t really capable of doing anything except being “mentally ill”. My mental illness does not define me. I have a career, run a magazine for people with a mental illness, am in a happy marriage and enjoy a lot of hobbies. Yet a comment like this still exists and people still believe that it’s viable, true, and funny.
Here are a few ways in which the mentally ill can help the mentally ill:
We talk (and write) about our experiences, good or bad, and how we have learned to live successfully with our illness. Not only is this a form of therapy for the person speaking out, but it also helps others who don’t feel comfortable doing so that they aren’t alone. It breaks down the stigma surrounding mental illness, which is necessary when you remember that 1 in 4 people have one. Not everyone wants to admit to their mental illness, not everyone wants to talk about their mental illness. But listening to someone who does can help in ways you will never imagine possible.
As well as being incredibly vocal, we can also shut up and listen too. Listening non judgmentally is hard to do, but really important when listening to someone’s story. Don’t listen and make up a back story, or make assumptions about this person because of how their mental illness has manifested itself. Just listen. Let them get it off their chest. One benefit of doing this is that it reduces the chance of that person committing suicide, even if you don’t offer advice.
Many people with a mental illness now live with it quite successfully. This could be due to medical intervention or self help. Either way, we can give advice to other people based on our own experiences, and some of this advice could help someone to either seek the help they need, or help themselves back to full health. It could save a life, too.
Are you OK? These three simple words can help someone open up and talk. People with a mental illness can sometimes spot the symptoms in others, identify if they need help and empathise with how they are feeling. They are more likely to ask if someone else is OK, because they know how isolated it can feel when you’re not.
Finally, the majority of mental health charities I have worked with in Scotland have been started by people with mental illnesses. These successful charities help thousands of people who really need it.
And that’s how the mentally ill can help the mentally ill.
Do you want to volunteer your time with a mental health charity? Explore these and I hope you find your way to helping someone: