When someone with mental illness reaches out to you about how they are feeling, please think before you speak. The cliche things that we have heard a million times are frustrating and make us feel misunderstood.
Presumptuous actions and words can be very hurtful. A person having extreme anxiety or depression can quickly spiral down into a dangerous place for them.
*Be gentle with your tone of voice and your words, as if they were standing on the edge of a cliff.*
Here is a way you can be of “real help” as opposed to “junk help.”
Robin calls Mary and asks how she is doing. Mary says ,
“I am having an anxiety attack. The repairman is coming today to fix the washer.
The house is too messy to have him here. I am thinking about calling to cancel, but the thought of the phone call is giving me extreme anxiety.”
Don’t Say – “Don’t cancel the appointment. Just deal with it. The washer has to be fixed.”
*Only the person knows how bad their anxiety is. To force them into the situation could cause a much more severe , possibly dangerous state of anxiety, Let them decide.*
Don’t Say – “Have you taken your meds today?”
* We know what pills have taken and why. The meds we have or have not taken today is not the point. It actually draws attention away from what she needs to talk about. *
*The exception to this would be if you are her caregiver or if she has requested that you check in with her because she forgets to take her meds.”
Don’t Say – “Your apartment is fine. You worry too much about a little mess.
*It is not the reality of the mess that is the issue. It is our perception of the mess and the intrusive thoughts that we have no control over.*
Don’t Say – I am on my way over to clean up your house. I’ll be there in 15 minutes. Bye.
*OMG! I am having anxiety just typing this.
We told you that we are having anxiety about someone seeing the house this way. The thought of you forcing us to have you here is terrifying. The level of anxiety that having you see the mess could cause is extreme. This is only triggering a higher level of anxiety and making us want to lie the next time you ask how we are doing.*
Do Say – I understand that you are having extreme anxiety right now. Is there anything I can say or do that would be helpful to you?
*Let Mary think about your offer. She will feel validated about her condition and that will reduce her anxiety. She will think about what would be helpful.
In thinking about your offer, she will turn on the rational part of the brain.
** If the rational part of the brain is working on something, it will draw some of the power away from the “fear center” of the brain.**
*Now you have accomplished 2 things so far to reduce her sensations in the body of anxiety. You validated her and then you posed a non-threatening question for her to think about.*
*Next, she will let you know if she does think of something that will be helpful to her. She may come up with something and in doing that she has learned something about herself that will be helpful to her.*
*Or she might tell you there is nothing she can think of right now but the fact that you listened to her and asked what you could do to help, was helpful in itself.*