A recent report by the WHO (World Health Organization) revealed that 7.5% of the Indian population deals with some form of mental illness. WHO also predicted that by 2020 (we are here now), roughly 20% of the population of our country will suffer from mental health issues.
These are some alarming facts which need to be taken very seriously and reiterated often, everywhere.
However, the change that is eminent to control these numbers isn’t happening at the pace we would like them to.
So, what can we do in such trying times?
We start with ourselves. Even if there aren’t enough professionals who can cater to everyone going through some issues or the other, we, on the ground level can educate ourselves and others with the bare minimum that can be done to support our loved ones, till they are able to avail the help they need.
Here is a list of things that should be considered if you know someone who’s dealing with any mental illness or even otherwise, things that help in creating a more supportive environment for all of us:
It's okay to ask - if you are concerned about friends/colleagues/family members, it’s okay to ask how they are doing. You can share your concern with them and that you are there to listen or help if they need any.
Actually, listen - really, truly, just listen. If someone is having a tough time, and still are choosing to share, that means they want to be heard. Give cues, clarify your doubts while they share, but don’t jump into advising, unless they have asked for it. Acknowledge their feelings. And it never hurts to remind them you care.
What if they don’t want to talk? What then? - be patient. If they say things are fine, and you don’t feel right about it, you can let them know that you will be there, when and if they need you. You can always share your concerns and encourage them to seek help, be there with them to call or text a helpline if they need it.
When the conversation starts, what can you say? - respond with care. Every problem is unique and so are their solutions, you might not have the right answer always, but the aim is not to provide the right solution, but help them figure it out.
Statements that you can consider - How can I help? / Do you need help finding someone to talk to? / I care about you. / Is there anything I can do to help you get through this? / I’m not sure what to do, but we can talk to someone about this? / Is it okay if I call you once in a while?
What can you offer? - You can check in on them once in a while. You can also help them with different tasks, like running errands, until they feel better. You can also reach out to others who can take your place once in a while and help the friend through. Talking to an expert also helps.
You too aren’t alone - just because you are a trusted friend, doesn’t mean that you’re expected to solve their problems, or play the role of the therapist. You’re allowed to acknowledge your shortcomings and can reach out to those who can offer support. Counselors, teachers, trusted family members, etc. You can make a big difference by just being there as a friend.
You don’t need a degree to understand and be empathetic to those dealing with mental health issues, but an open mind, education regarding the different topics, or even talking to a professional, sometimes helps more than we realize.
Keeping all this in mind, it is eminent to remember that you also need rest and your own space to work through things. It is completely okay if things get overwhelming and you want to take some time off. There is a sense of guilt which seeps in when we are trying to help someone and we feel that we aren’t there for them a hundred percent, however, we are here for you too, it is not entirely your responsibility to bear and you don’t have to force yourself to do it. Take care of yourself too.