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What To Do When Reaching Out Doesn’t Work

What To Do When Reaching Out Doesn’t Work

The deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, both by apparent suicide has the world reeling again. There have been numerous articles in response to this, calling for more mental health support, offering advice on how to reach out to loved ones, and more. One of my first thoughts was of how devastating substance abuse can be. I don’t know directly how much alcohol or drugs factored into the deaths of these two celebrities, but both had struggled with substances throughout their lives and it seems as though it likely influenced these most recent tragedies.

When we experience the death of a celebrity, a work colleague, a friend, or family member, one of the common struggles is wondering what could have been done? What if we’d just reached out more? What if we’d asked them how they were doing more? What if we’d encouraged them to get help more? The reality is that simply checking in on someone, or offering platitudes like, “Make sure you ask for help when you need it,” simply don’t work very often.

One of our staff pointed me to this article in which a group of friends held an intervention of sorts for a friend struggling with grief. What I appreciated about the article, from the perspective of the friend being intervened upon, was the comment that this approach could have easily backfired. This is very much true – it worked in her case, but on a different day, at a different time, or for any other number of reason the approach could have backfired. Still, she was grateful that they had intervened. So, here are some ways I’m going to suggest we can succeed in supporting friends when the stereotypical “reaching out” isn’t working.

 

Show Up

Most people struggling with mental health will tell you that it’s incredibly isolating. Isolation intensifies and worsens negative emotions and symptoms of mental health difficulties. It removes motivation, removes hope, and so much more. So, what this means is that when we ask, “Hey, how are you doing today? Have you gone outside for a walk? Is there anything I can do,” we are likely to hear, “I’m fine, it’s ok,” because giving any other answer requires motivation and hope, and effort, just like any other action on their part.

This is where we can show up. We know what our friends, family members, and loved ones need in general because it’s good for anyone: healthy food, going for walks, help with practical things in life. If we ask if we can do something for someone struggling, they’ll likely say no. If we show up and help, however, we are more likely to succeed, and more often than not, they will be grateful that we showed up and helped them.

 

Know Our People Well

In order to show up and be effective, we need to know what our friends, family members, or loved ones like, need, and long for. This requires us to know them well. It requires intimacy and vulnerability on both our parts, and we need to be working on this when times are good. If we rely on building this when things are bad, it will be incredibly difficult. There’s a tool I use when working with couples in therapy as we focus on building a foundation for their relationship and I think it can be helpful here. The Gottman Institute card decks are designed for couples, but they could easily be used for building interpersonal knowledge and intimacy in any relationship. The Love Maps and Open-Ended Questions card decks are particularly helpful for this – know that the language is geared for couples, but I’d love to see more of us using these in our other relationships. The more we know each other on a deeper level, the more we’ll be prepared to respond when someone is having a difficult time with mental health. We’ll know their wants, needs, desires, hopes, without even having to ask.

 

Be Willing To Take The Risk

Sometimes what we do as we try to help someone might backfire. If we show up unannounced to take someone for a walk because they can’t get out; if we show up with food and conversation when they can’t bring themselves to cook or to talk to anyone; if we show up and clean their house for them, these all may backfire. We might make them mad, we might embarrass them, we may even get the door slammed in our face.

We also might, just maybe, make the difference needed to help them move the next step forward, and they didn’t have to do it alone.

I often get asked the question, “What if I make things worse?” The reality is, it’s hardly possible to make things worse by showing empathy and love. For the sake of argument, even if we do, what then? Are they more depressed or more anxious? That’s a risk we need to be willing to take, and I can tell you that from my experience, it simply does not happen that way.

 

Get Help Yourself

Finally, if you try everything, you show up, you do for someone what they can’t do for themselves, and it’s not working, this is where a professional’s help can be a great asset. Trying to care for someone is difficult, especially when we don’t see results. It wears on us, it causes us distress, and we are now at greater risk for mental health difficulties ourselves. Sometimes we also just need an outside perspective from someone with experience with these issues. This is where a Registered Clinical Counsellor can be helpful in supporting you and providing outside insight into how you might help someone. RCC’s can also be helpful in connecting you or the person you’re concerned about with appropriate resources that may be helpful.

 

Don’t Give Up

Caring for someone who is struggling is hard. Don’t give up on them – try some of the strategies above, get some help for yourself if they won’t let you help them, and in case you missed it the first few times, don’t give up.

Feel free to contact us for help or counselling related matters. Our doors are always open.

How Can I Help My Teen Who Has An Addiction?

How Can I Help My Teen Who Has An Addiction?

Having a child with an addiction can be one of the most terrifying things as a parent. Depending on the level of the addiction, it can mean different things. Sometimes our kids start with curiosity and dabbling in marijuana. Sometimes it’s a harder drug like cocaine, ecstasy, MDMA, or even heroin. Sometimes it’s all of the above. You might notice the subtle changes – maybe their grades are slipping a bit, or they’re staying out later with friends, or they’re not as interested in hobbies they used to enjoy. Sometimes it takes a more significant turn and they stop their hobbies altogether, stop going to school, or even stop interacting with the world on a grand scale and isolate themselves in their room, hardly ever coming out.

I hate to say it, but this isn’t going to get any easier with the legalization of marijuana coming in July. I’ve spent a great deal of time in the past months speaking with various agencies about this, and although it will still be illegal for minors to consume marijuana, the legalization is most definitely going to change the landscape, and in significant ways. While I’m not going to go into that today, what parents should know is that this isn’t going to get easier; it’s going to get more difficult.

So, how can you help your teen? That’s a huge question and we’ll be writing more about it in the weeks and months to come, but here are three things that I think parents should know that will hopefully help.

 

You are right to be concerned if your child is using substances.

 

I’m often surprised by how nonchalant people are with alcohol and marijuana and teens. It’s not uncommon for teens to try these two substances, but I am concerned by how unconcerned many parents are that their teens are using these two in particular. In my experience, they have almost been filed in the “benign,” category of substances. While they are potentially better than crack cocaine, MDMA, or heroin, they are far from benign and I want to highlight one particular reason: brain development.

Our brains are constantly changing and developing, even into adulthood, but the most crucial time period is from the time we’re born, until approximately 25 years old. Yes, our brains are still developing up to the age of 25. Even more important, as highlighted in the article I just linked to, is that the part of the brain that controls rational processes is one of the last to develop, and doesn’t fully develop until the mid-20’s. This means that the part of the brain that might help a teen work through whether drugs are a good idea isn’t fully functional until well after high school is over.

The take-home message here is two-fold: using substances as a teen has the potential to negatively impact brain development, and the part of the brain that might help them understand this and make good choices isn’t fully functional until they’re 25.

 

What you do matters.

 

As parents, one of the most important things we can do is help educate our children on the impacts of substances, and this needs to happen before there is a problem. Now, I get it. It’s an awkward and even scary conversation for some parents. It’s not totally dissimilar to having the “sex talk,” which is equally awkward and equally important. However, it’s also our responsibility as parents to have the discussion. If we want our kids to make good choices, they need the information in their repertoire before they need it, not afterward. If you don’t know enough to educate your child on substance use, please start by educating yourself. There are many resources online, and many community groups that can help. Most importantly, make sure your child knows that if they run into difficulties with substances, they can come to you for help and make sure that they know they will not get into trouble if they ask for help.

An equally important thing to know is that our kids watch what we do and are impacted by the example we set. If we aren’t using substances responsibly, we really can’t expect our kids to and we can’t expect to have credibility when we’re speaking about it with them. To push this even further, we may even be using substances in what we feel is a responsible way, but our kids may not understand that – this goes back to the brain development part. I’ve worked with many families who bring teens in with concerns about their substance use, and when I speak with the kid, it comes out that the parents likely have substance use issues that aren’t being dealt with. As parents, we need to lead by example. This increases the likelihood that our kids will make good choices, and if they run into trouble, that they will seek appropriate help.

Finally, if you’re in a situation where your kid is using substances and you’re having a hard time dealing with it, get help for yourself. It’s heart-breaking, it’s stressful, and it’s lonely because often we feel the need to hide our difficulties as families and hide what our kids are struggling with. Even more so, it’s hard to see our kids in pain. If that’s the case, reach out to get some help. There are community resources available, and it’s something we do a lot of work with and we’d love to help you if you’re in this difficult place.

 

Focus on the relationship.

 

Sometimes it’s all we’ve got. It’s also where we get any foothold and any credibility with our kids when they’re struggling. Remember, if your kid is struggling with substances, there is always a reason, and it’s not as simple as “peer pressure.” Peer pressure is a misnomer. Sure, sometimes it happens but in my experience, it’s rarely the reason kids are using substances. People use substances as a means to manage pain, and teens are no different. Be it mental, emotional, or physical pain, this is most often the reason and we need to be sensitive to that.

If your kid is struggling and they won’t get help, be there for them. Sit with them, express your love for them, express your concern for them and your desire to help. Avoid condemning them, shaming them, or anything that resembles this (and this is hard). Your kid will not turn around and stop using substances because they hear you say that drugs are bad. They may turn around, however, if they hear you say that you love them, and you’re worried about them, and you’re there to help when they’re ready. And, as I mentioned above, until they’re ready, I’d highly recommend you seeking help for yourself while you’re waiting for them to come around. It’s a tough road, and sometimes a long one while we wait for our teens to be ready for help.

If you’re on this journey with your child, whether they’re a teen or an adult, know that you’re not alone. You’re not alone in your suffering, and you’re not alone in feeling lost, and maybe even hopeless as you watch your child suffer. We’re here to help.

Technology: the new social drug?

Technology: the new social drug?

Note from Andrew

Hi everyone, I want to take a minute to introduce you to Laura. She’s a local South Delta resident who is going to be volunteering with us. She is a graduate student, currently enrolled at Trinity Western University, working toward becoming a counsellor. Her program works to provide counselling knowledge in different areas of mental health, multiculturalism, family domestic violence, career and vocational counselling, psychotherapy, sexual abuse, addictions, child protection and family and child therapy. Laura sees herself as a sounding board for people to become empowered finding solutions and to be a source of support during times of change or reevaluation. During her undergrad, she volunteered at a suicide crisis hotline and also worked at an afterschool program for at-risk youth where she discovered her passion for counselling. We’re excited to have her on board, and you’ll be hearing more from her in the coming months!

 

Technology: the new social drug?

The world of technology has given people new ways to connect, share, and keep up to date with friends and loved ones. In just about 20 years we have gone from not having an email to being able to watch the live stream of our friends’ daily activities. We have the ability to show the world what we want of ourselves whenever we want to. There has been a recent wave of new types of social networking sites (SNS) as well as a flood of concern for the young people of this generation who are growing up in a technological age.
The purpose of this article is not to deter anyone from using social media websites (or else you wouldn’t be reading this). The hope is that by the end of this article you will have gained some awareness of how SNS’s, particularly Instagram, can affect our mental well-being as well as behaviours. Having an honest conversation with ourselves about our purpose for sharing and posting particular content could be helpful for identifying a particular need that has not been met in our personal lives.

Instagram is sometimes called the new Facebook. When a user scrolls through the home page of Instagram they will see only pictures with captions underneath that have a limit of 2200 characters but rarely exceed 20 characters. The captions are very small and the photos people share take up the entire screen of the smartphone.

Studies involving college-age students have identified that larger amounts of time spent on SNS’s are correlated with a greater body dissatisfaction. Women are more likely to have greater body dissatisfaction than men because they tend to compare themselves to members of the same sex more frequently. Comparing oneself to one’s peers on an SNS has also been shown to lead to emotional eating for girls.

Research is also highlighting that the more followers someone accumulates on Instagram the more selfies that person will post, almost as if they feel they are in demand. Students who take more selfies to show off their appearance are more likely to believe they are perfect but also believe that no one else sees them that way. This form of narcissism can be referred to as vulnerable narcissism. This is in contrast to grandiose narcissists who believe they are perfect and insist that everyone around them agrees. Murray’s research also shows that young adults and adults who take selfies to show off their appearance report characteristics of fragile self–esteem and a tendency not to reveal their weaknesses. This could show that people who are vulnerable narcissists use their physical appearance selfies to declare a sense of confidence through social media, where it feels safe. In short, people are using social media because it makes them feel better in the moment but has the opposite effect long-term. It may be important for us to keep this in mind next time we scroll through our Instagram feed and find a gorgeous peer who seems to have it all. It may be wise to give it a second thought – appearances are not necessarily what they seem.

All of this information brings up the question of what people are trying to do on social media. Many people seem to be after a sense of connection – but this usually isn’t the result. Research is showing that people who post a high amount of self-pictures on Instagram are much lonelier than either passive browsers or users who use it to message people. In other words, on social media, the harder we try, the lonelier we become!

Fortunately, if you identified with any of the people groups, it doesn’t have to stay like that. Social media can be a great distraction from loneliness or insecurities. However, distractions do not fix the problems just like comparing yourself to others and getting likes and comments from strangers won’t make you like yourself more or feel happier in the long run. Admitting that we are not perfect can be scary and difficult but it can be empowering if we are willing to put down our quick fixes and honestly evaluate things we may like or may try to ignore about ourselves. Perhaps the first step might be putting down our phones and getting off social media for a bit and meeting a friend in-person at a coffee shop?

Suicide: Stigma and Warning Signs

Suicide: Stigma and Warning Signs

Suicide. To most this can be a feared word, much like, “He Who Must Not Be Named,” but as Hermione Granger would say, “fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.” 1 While a helpful illustration, we shouldn’t let the Harry Potter quote take away from the gravity of the subject of suicide. With knowledge comes power and although there are things in life that may ultimately be outside of our control, it is important for us to be informed.

One author writes, “stigmatization of…mental health disorders is alive and well,” and perpetuated by misinformation, miscommunication, and media sensationalization, despite the best efforts of good intentioned campaigners. 2 Those with mental health disorders are often painted as “crazy,” “violent,” or “untrustworthy,” but could these descriptors not also be attributed to those without mental health disorders? I am certain that most of us could think of someone in our life that we have a colourful moniker for, much like those aforementioned, that does not have a mental health disorder. The truth of the matter is that research shows that individuals living with mental illness are more likely to harm themselves than others.2 Stigma can produce profound impacts, including social disgrace and shame, which then serve as obstacles to identifying and acting on warning signs of suicide.3 Individuals may recognize warning signs for suicide as easily as they do those for physical ailments (e.g. heart attack or stroke) but tend to respond less urgently.3 All this to say, if we want to do something to reduce suicides, we need to reduce stigma, and be aware of the warning signs.

Determining the risk of suicide for an individual with one hundred percent accuracy is impossible. Suicide assessments consider a complex interplay of variables encompassing risk factors, protective factors, and warning signs. Due to these complexities, it takes much training, supervision, and experience to thoroughly conduct suicide risk assessments and should only be done by an experienced professional.

So if suicide risk assessments can only be completed by trained professionals what can you do? If you are concerned about a family member, friend, or colleague there are ten common warning signs to be aware of6 :

 

  1. Ideation or communication about suicide
  2. Substance abuse
  3. Purposelessness
  4. Anxiety or panic
  5. Trapped feelings
  6. Hopelessness
  7. Withdrawal from social groups
  8. Agitation or irritability
  9. Reckless behaviour
  10. Mood changes

 

An important thing to remember is that nothing is certain. Warning signs are just that, signs. The presence of a warning sign does not automatically mean that an individual is suicidal, just as the lack of warning signs does not automatically mean that an individual is not suicidal. The purpose is to recognize the signs and start the conversation, get more information, or seek the help of a professional. Let’s start treating mental health like physical health and take preventative measures to ensure the health and safety of our loved ones.

 

Resources

 

Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of BC

Anywhere in BC 1-800-SUICIDE: 1-800-784-2433

Mental Health Support Line: 310-6789

Vancouver: 604-872-3311

Sunshine Coast/Sea to Sky: 1-866-661-3311

Seniors Distress Line: 604-872-1234

Online Chat Service for Youth: www.YouthInBC.com (Noon to 1 am)

Online Chat Service for Adults: www.CrisisCentreChat.ca (Noon to 1 am)

 

S.A.F.E.R (Suicide Attempt Follow-up Education & Research)

8:30 am to 4:30 pm Monday to Friday             Call: 604-875-4794

 

Aboriginal Wellness Program (AWP) Vancouver

Call: 604-875-6601

In an emergency call 9-1-1.

 

 

References

 

[1] Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. (1997). London, England: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

[2] The Lancet. (2013). Truth versus myth on mental illness, suicide, and crime. The Lancet, 382(9901), 1309. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736%2813%2962125-X

[3] Rudd, M. D., Goulding, J. M, & Carlisle, C. J. (2013). Stigma and suicide warning signs. Archives of Suicide Research, 17(3), 313-318. doi:10.1080/13811118.2013.777000

[4] Fowler, J. C. (2011). Suicide risk assessment in clinical practice: Pragmatic guidelines for imperfect assessments. Psychotherapy, 49(1), 81-90. doi:10.1037/a0026148

[5] Granello, D. H. (2010). The process of suicide risk assessment: Twelve core principles. Journal of Counseling & Development, 88(3), 363-371. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6678.2010.tb00034.x

[6] Wu, R. (2017). Individual Appraisal for Counsellors in Practice. Suicide risk Ax. [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from https://adler.hotchalkember.com/courses/15984/files/743942?module_item_id=36008

 

A Grief Observed: How We Process Grief and Loss

A Grief Observed: How We Process Grief and Loss

As some of you may have picked up, the title is a tribute to one of my favourite authors of all time, C.S. Lewis, who was no stranger to grief and loss. A part of his story is the loss of his wife, and A Grief Observed is a tribute to her and commentary on his own grief process; and I dare say, well worth the read. It’s not reading his books, however, that has me thinking about grief and our own emotional processes.

The past month or two has been a difficult one in our local community of South Delta as well as our new home in South Surrey. There have been a number of lives lost, families coping with tragedies, car accidents with serious consequences, and even new developments in a case where a family lost a husband and father due to a violent incident in Tsawwassen.

How does one take all of this in, and continue? I’m often asked how it is that I do my job every day, dealing with trauma (much of my clinical caseload), and tragedy in the community that we love so deeply. I’m not going to lie – there are days where it’s difficult. Some days where it’s incredibly difficult. This past week was one of the hardest. I was asked to speak at a service for a young man who took his own life. There is nothing I could possibly write here to describe the devastation felt by his family who loved him so very much. There’s nothing that I could write here that would come close to trying to explain their loss and pain, or the pain that leads him to end his life by suicide at such a young age.

This, however, is the reality of our existence. Grief and loss are ubiquitous – it doesn’t matter how young or old, how rich or poor, how educated or not, we are – things happen in life and we are left with the consequences. How is it that we are to respond to grief and loss when it enters our lives? What do we say to an individual, a couple, or a family in any of these situations? The truth is that there really is very little that can be said. What we need in these times is empathy.

Brené Brown speaks a lot about empathy, and one of the things that she has said rang truer to me in this past week than any other, and that is that very seldom can anything we say make anything better. What makes things better is a connection – the knowledge that someone is there with us, walking through this difficult part of life, and connecting with us on an emotional level.

This is the heart of counselling, and why it is that I do what I do, and why we take a trauma-sensitive, emotion-focused approach at our clinic. I know that as I’ve processed my own grief and trauma throughout my life, the help of a Registered Clinical Counsellor has been invaluable. Knowing that it’s not something someone says that makes things better, how is it that a counsellor can help us in our process? Sometimes it’s hard to put a finger on. Here are three ways that I believe counselling can help us as we walk through our own grief:

  1. We can be heard without judgement.

In the same video I referenced above we heard Brené Brown comment that it’s hard to refrain from judgement because most of us enjoy it. We carry judgements around with us throughout our days and our lives, it’s a natural human tendency. Often, rather than trying to understand, we’re listening to respond. This is where a counsellor can be helpful, and where we can all practice the empathic stance of non-judgement – it’s an intentional choice, and one of the key skills a counsellor employs. We listen to understand, and we suspend judgement.

  1. We can be understood from our own perspective.

One of the key skills taught to counsellors in their training is what is called the “not knowing stance” and it is something that I focus a lot on with the interns that I train. One of our natural tendencies as human beings is to assume that we know and understand how someone feels when they have an experience we have also had. Often, we may respond with, “Oh yeah, I totally know what how that feels!” This is dangerous, however, because just because we have a similar experience, doesn’t mean we have similar emotions and reactions, and it doesn’t mean the event has the same impact on us that it does on someone else. If we respond in this way, we run the risk of the person feeling that they aren’t heard, and definitely, aren’t understood. This “not knowing stance” assists counsellors to get to the client’s understanding of their experience and understanding it from their perspective – this is the root of empathy.

  1. We can know that we are not alone.

What you get from reading A Grief Observed, is a picture of the ongoing process of grief. Grief is not a linear, finite path; instead, it is a winding road that goes over hills, through valleys, and up mountains, and occasionally one reaches a clearing and finds peace. That is until the journey begins again. This is a difficult, emotionally draining journey – I imagine if I were to undertake a literal grief journey, I’d want someone there with me while I walk. This is true of our emotional journey, and the role of the counsellor in the process of grief. A journey mate, a companion, one who reminds us that we are not alone in the good, the bad, and even the ugly; and also, not alone when we find times of peace. One who also has the skills to help us participate in the journey, and travel safely.

There is more to be said about grief and loss, but I hope this helps some of you who have been on this journey recently, and some who have been on it for a while. Know that you are not alone, there are people around you to listen, hear, and understand. If one of our Registered Clinical Counsellors can be helpful in your process, please give us a call; we’re here to journey with you.

Moving From Talking To Connection

Moving From Talking To Connection

Yesterday was Bell Let’s Talk day. Last year, it raised over $6.5 million for mental health initiatives. Over $85 million has been donated toward mental health since its inception. I don’t know about you, but that seems pretty significant to me. We talk about ending stigma, and I’m all for it, but I’m also practical and always ask the question, “So how is this doing something to help people on a practical level?” This is what I really appreciate about Bell Let’s Talk Day – that it not only starts a conversation about mental health, and normalizes the experience, but it’s also using the conversation to drive innovation and services to help those impacted by mental health.

I sat down to write this article yesterday, but I just couldn’t. I’d initially wanted to write an article as a part of Bell Let’s Talk, but it just wasn’t going to happen. See, yesterday marked another anniversary for me and for one of my very best friends. Yesterday was the anniversary of my friend losing her life to mental health. I’d known her since I was about 6 years old and her brother is one of my best friends. We grew up together, experienced life together, and both experienced the ups and downs. She was a firecracker of a personality, a talented musician, adventurer, pusher of boundaries, and more recently, a mother.

As many of us do, she tried all sorts of things to deal with her difficulties, some proactive, and some reactive; some helpful, and some not so much. Nothing seemed to work, and it wasn’t for lack of trying. This is the reality for some – no matter what is tried, the symptoms are still there. I know I’ve had counselling clients who have sat in my office saying, “Andrew, I feel like I’ve tried everything, and nothing is making this go away.” I’ll tell you, as a professional, there’s nothing that makes me feel quite so powerless. But this is the reality for some, and I know this from my own personal experience with mental health – sometimes we try everything and nothing makes it go away.

What then? Do we give up? Do we throw in the towel and just come to terms with the fact that mental health problems are here to stay regardless of what we do? Absolutely not. If this was how I felt, quite frankly, Alongside You would not exist. My clients will often hear me say that I don’t believe in hopeless cases, and it’s true. I can’t promise my clients that we can make the anxiety, depression, psychosis, or trauma go away; I wish I could believe me! I do believe, however, that there is always hope – no matter how awful things are, there is always hope. I’d like to propose three things that bring hope for those of us who struggle with mental health, and those who support others in their struggle.

 

Empathy

The word empathy has been gaining traction and is being talked about more and more, and I couldn’t be happier about it. See, empathy is very different than sympathy. Sympathy is often our natural reaction, likely in response to our own pain over the suffering of others. We want to make it go away so we try to make it sound less awful. It’s really an attempt to soothe ourselves, but it has the opposite effect on the person we’re trying to help. Brené Brown gives a great definition of empathy in this video, and I encourage you to watch it; it only takes a few minutes. The take-home message, however, is that empathy drives connection, sympathy creates disconnection. A connection is what we need, particularly when we’re in pain because words rarely make something better, as Brené Brown notes, what makes it better is the connection.

 

Connection

A connection is being used as a buzz word in many circles these days (particularly in business), but what does it really mean to connect? It depends on the context. It could send a text message, it could be getting together over coffee, or it could be something deeper. All of these options can be good things to do with people struggling with mental health, but I want to highlight one thing that I think gets in the way of connecting, and that is fear. Mental health can be a scary thing, especially if we don’t have lived experience with it ourselves. What do we say? How do we respond? What if we don’t understand?

The beauty of empathy, and of connecting with someone on any level, is that we don’t need to understand, we just need be with them. Even though I’ve had my own difficulties with mental health over the years, I still don’t understand everything my clients, friends, colleagues, or family members experience. Some of what I come across is scary or makes me feel helpless, or downright confused. But if I remember that I don’t have to understand, I just have to connect, I can get past the fear and be with the person.

If you’re not sure how to be with the person, just ask them. This not only alleviates the pressure of having to figure out what the person needs and understand what’s going on, it empowers the person to tell you what they need, which in and of itself is beneficial. Remember, we are not dealing with issues, we are dealing with people.

 

Education

Finally, I want to highlight the importance of educating ourselves. I know I just said we don’t need to understand all the time in order to be there with someone, but some understanding sure does help. It also acts as an antidote to fear so that we can be ourselves with others as they are in their pain and suffering. There are so many resources now to educate ourselves on mental health it’s amazing. Here’s a few to start with:

We hope our blog is also a resource for you. If you have topics you’d like to see addressed on the blog, please contact us with what you’d like to know more about and we’ll do our best to address it in an upcoming post.

 

You Are Not Alone

If you’re reading this and you are struggling, please know that you are not alone. Struggling in silence, while I can completely understand it, isn’t going to get you the help you need. I know from my own journey that if I’d spoken up, and talked about it more when I was at my worst, life could have been a lot better and the suffering could have been much less.

Please reach out; whether it’s to us at Alongside You, to your local mental health team, to your family, your friends, your pastor, or otherwise, please reach out to someone so they can connect with you and ask how it is they can help.

You are loved.

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