Mental illness continues to be stigmatized, despite the fact that 1 in 5 people in the U.S. will experience it in their lifetime. People who struggle with mental illness are often misunderstood, and it can be difficult to get others to understand what you’re going through without knowing how it affects you specifically—and there are as many types of mental illness as there are people who deal with them. So what should you do if you think that someone close to you may be battling mental illness?
1) They Ignore Symptoms
Many people who battle mental illness will never seek treatment for it; about 40% of those with a major mental illness do not get professional help. Often, they’ll outright ignore that they are struggling or feel completely powerless to overcome it. However, ignoring your problems doesn’t make them go away; if anything, they’ll only get worse over time. If you believe someone you know might be battling mental illness, encourage them to get professional treatment as soon as possible!
2) They Don’t Seek Help
According to a recent survey by Nationwide Insurance, over half of those with mental illness will go at least one year without seeking help. Sadly, when asked why they didn’t seek treatment, 40% answered that they felt embarrassed or ashamed and 36% believed it would negatively impact their family. We need to break down barriers and normalize mental health issues so that people feel comfortable getting help. Through discussion in popular media outlets, interpersonal conversations, or even social networking platforms, we can remove some of these stigmas surrounding mental illness and encourage those suffering to speak up and ask for help.
3) They Are Overly Dependent on Others
It’s easy to get trapped in a cycle of relying on others. If you find yourself needing other people to survive, ask them for help without hesitation. The same goes for if someone asks you for help. If you don’t know how to help your friend, do some research on mental illness or seek out professional advice. It is okay to ask your friends what they need and it’s also okay if they say they don’t know – it doesn’t make them any less competent.
4) They Engage in Self-Sabotaging Behaviors
People with mental illness are oftentimes their own worst enemy. They may destroy their own lives or prevent themselves from accomplishing their goals and dreams by engaging in unhealthy behaviors, like drinking excessively, eating badly, and being reckless behind the wheel of a car. Oftentimes, they do these things to feel something–anything–in an attempt to overcome what they’re going through. Unfortunately, while they may think they’re in control of these acts of self-sabotage, it’s actually a defense mechanism that is creating more pain for them than alleviating it. Someone who is dealing with mental illness must be willing to be honest about their issues and make healthy decisions if they want to recover.
5) They Use Drugs and Alcohol to Cope
Those suffering from mental illness may be likely to abuse drugs and alcohol in order to cope with symptoms. If someone close to you is exhibiting these behaviors, or you see some of these signs in yourself, it might be time to seek help. Knowing where to turn can be difficult. Many people are afraid that they won’t get a fair chance at recovery if they seek out treatment, or they worry that their loved ones will immediately think that they’re not well enough for work or parenting duties. However, seeking out professional help could improve your quality of life immensely and give you back control over your life.
6) They Make Excuses
Making excuses is a way of making sense of your situation. Sometimes, you may even fool yourself into thinking your justifications are true. For example, I need to go out with my friends tonight, because I’ll be even more stressed tomorrow! Other times, you might feel like everything would fall apart if you weren’t around—so it’s OK for you to take a break from things as long as others are picking up your slack. If someone seems to have lots of poor me stories or uses generalizations when explaining their situation (I never get any breaks!), odds are they’re making excuses for themselves mentally and emotionally.
For many, mental illness is like a dark cloud that never leaves. It often makes it harder to accomplish even simple tasks and can even negatively impact relationships. For example, it’s estimated that 75% of people with depression have experienced marital distress because of their condition. In these instances, an excuse is simply a way for a person to create some distance from reality in order to protect themselves from getting hurt or failing at what they’re trying to do. The truth is we all use excuses every day but when battling mental illness excuses become more extreme and frequent.
7) They Act Out in Violent Ways
If someone is battling mental illness, they might find themselves being drawn to act out in a way that’s completely at odds with their normal behavior. For example, if they’re normally mild-mannered and well-spoken, they might try to confront their boss—who subsequently fires them—or go on a tirade against those around them. This erratic behavior can make those who are suffering from mental illness look unstable to others, which only deepens stigma and makes it harder for people to reach out and ask for help. For example, someone may think If I’m acting strangely or irrationally, people will label me as ‘crazy.’ The reality is that these impulsive actions can be indicative of severe depression or another mental illness.
8) They Don’t Believe in Treatment Options
Although there are many types of mental illnesses, many have a genetic component. Unfortunately, a sense of shame and fear also often plays into people’s attitudes about seeking treatment. Some may believe their situation is hopeless because they can’t imagine that there’s anything that can be done to help them, while others may simply be too ashamed to admit they need help at all. Despite these obstacles, depression and other mental health issues are treatable conditions—and effective treatment options exist for almost every one. If you know someone who is battling mental illness, encourage them to seek out treatment as soon as possible by showing them some of these surprising things people do when battling a mental illness.