Loving Those With Mental Illnesses

Beware of Spiritual Bypassing

SB is the use of spiritual ideas to avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and societal problems. Basically, it’s the use of religious words, theologies, or cliches to invalidate or avoid addressing the actual issue.

When spirituality and religion are used to compensate for challenging traits such as low self-esteem, social isolation, mental health issues, social issues like racism or sexism, or other emotional issues, they corrupt the actual use of the spiritual practice.

Some examples include:

  • “It doesn’t matter who is president, Jesus is always in control.”
  • “Everything happens for a reason.”
  • “I don’t see color.” & “All Lives Matter.”
  • “Try focusing on the positive!”
  • “Don’t be anxious, just trust God!”
  • “Rely on God and you won’t be so tired.”
  • “You shouldn’t feel lonely. God is always with you.”
  • “Have you prayed about it?”

Educate Yourself

Know what mental illness your loved one is dealing with and educate yourself on it. Every person is different, but research is a great place to start.

Here are some of the most common mental illnesses:

Depression

Often characterized by loss of interest or pleasure, general sadness, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, difficulty falling asleep, eating pattern changes, exhaustion, and a lack of concentration. This isn’t just being sad, it’s a life-altering illness. Your loved one dealing with depression isn’t being lazy or dramatic. Depression is most often caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and social sources of distress.

Learn what your loved one needs when dealing with depression and how you can best support them. Communicate, be patient, maintain balance.

Anxiety

There are multiple different anxiety disorders, including Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Agoraphobia, and Separation Anxiety. Those with General Anxiety feel excessive, unrealistic worry and tension for little either no reason. These people can have anxiety or panic attacks, either triggered by something specific or random, with no discernible trigger.

Listen to your loved one with anxiety. Remind them they are okay and safe. Learn coping techniques such as grounding. Become familiar with their triggers.

Bipolar Affective Disorder

Engendering both manic and depressive episodes, sometimes book-ended, and sometimes featuring moments of “normal” or stabilized mood, BAD impacts ~60 million people worldwide. Manic episodes can contain elevated or irritable mood, hyperactivity, inflated self-esteem, and a lack of desire to sleep. Hypomania is a less severe form of mania. Depressive episodes are often characterized by feelings of extreme sadness, hopelessness, little energy, and trouble sleeping.

Be patient, ask about their experiences, listen, encourage support, take care of yourself and set boundaries.

ADHD

There are 7 types of ADHD, (Classic, Inattentive, Overfocused, Temporal Lobe, Limbic, Ring of Fire, and Anxious) so try to be familiar with them and which types your loved one has.
ADHD can cause above-normal levels of hyperactive and impulsive behaviors. People with ADHD may also have trouble focusing their attention on a single task or sitting still for long periods of time.

This may contribute to low self-esteem, troubled relationships, and difficulty at school or work.

PTSD & C-PTSD

There are many different things that can cause trauma, not just war. Sexual assault, abuse, a physical health condition, a loss, etc. can all be the cause of PTSD. The condition may last months or years, with triggers that can bring back memories of the trauma accompanied by intense emotional and physical reactions.

Symptoms may include nightmares or unwanted memories of the trauma, avoidance of situations that bring back memories of the trauma, heightened reactions, anxiety, or depressed mood.

Seek out therapy for yourself and for your loved one with PTSD. Learn their triggers and how you can avoid them. Be supportive, patient, and understanding.

Dementia

Dementia is generally chronic or progressive in nature and entails deterioration of cognitive function beyond normal aging, impacting about 50 million people across the globe. From memory, orientation, and thinking, to comprehension, calculation, and language, the decline in cognitive function is generally met with deterioration in emotional and social control.

Help your loved one seek treatment, develop routines, don’t argue, and be realistic in expectations.

Schizophrenia and Other Psychoses

Psychoses, including schizophrenia, is a severe mental illness impacting about 23 million people worldwide and is characterized by distortions in thinking, perception, emotions, sense of self, and behavior. Those who have these illnesses can experience hallucinations and delusions starting in late adolescence or early adulthood, making it difficult for people to work, study, or interact socially.

One of the best things you can do is reduce the stigma of this mental illness. Also, listen and be patient with your loved one.

Use empathy, not arguments, don’t take everything personally, practice self-care, surround yourself with a great and encouraging social network, and encourage your loved one to seek (and keep up with) treatment.

ASD

Autism spectrum disorder impacts the nervous system. The range and severity of symptoms can vary widely. Common symptoms include difficulty with communication, difficulty with social interactions, obsessive interests, and repetitive behaviors. Asperger syndrome is a condition on the autism spectrum, with generally higher functioning. People with this condition may be socially awkward and have an all-absorbing interest in specific topics.

Recognize the beauty of these humans, their INCREDIBLE nature, where they are strongest, and how creative they are. Be patient and educate yourself.

Embrace Empathy and Validation

Empathy can be a competitive sport, meaning we “feel bad” for someone as long as their struggle/suffering is the worst we’ve heard that day. And if we have recently overcome something we perceive as “worse” then it’s less likely to appreciate/validate someone else’s struggle.
Empathy and validation are not subjected to comparison.

Instead of “I know you’re having a hard time, but it could be worse.” try “I don’t know the best way to help you, but I’m willing to learn.” or “I don’t understand what you’re going through, but I’m so sorry and I’m here for you.” When we empathize with the people in our lives without needing to hold their circumstances up against ours or anyone else’s, we lessen the chance that our loved ones feel alone in their pain and we strengthen the chance that they’ll be vulnerable enough to reach out to us in their times of need.

Validation is simply the acknowledgment that a person has a feeling, even if we don’t agree that it’s an appropriate feeling to have or the response we would have in similar circumstances; validation sounds like, “I understand that you’re angry right now, that must be difficult.”

Emotions are valid and important. They are not a sign of weakness and do not have to fit a certain criteria to count.

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