How to look after someone with mental illness
Note: the opinions in this piece are strictly that of the author and do not reflect the Tertangala or the University of Wollongong*
Every day, six Australians will take their own lives—and another 30 will attempt to. But what if someone could be there for them? What if someone could have looked after them? What if we could have saved them? Mental illness is a serious—and terrifying—thing to experience or see. But even the smallest things can make a massive difference. Here’s how you can look after the ones you love:
Clean for them
I feel paralysed when I’m depressed. I can’t move. I sit, and stare off into nothingness, stuck in a black hole of desolation. I peer around my little apartment, and see unwashed dishes, an overflowing bin, crumbs and clothes on the floor. But there’s not a single thing I can do to fix it. Even getting out of bed is a mammoth task when you’re depressed, and cleaning is almost unthinkable. But at the same time, a messy house is distressing. It’s cluttered—just like your mind.
Having someone to help with this would be glorious—and if you don’t have to worry about small things like cleaning, you can start focussing on the real task at hand: fixing yourself.
Cook for them
It’s the same as the above scenario. When you’re feeling down, it’s really, really hard to look after yourself. When you’re sad, you don’t feel hungry—and you don’t exactly feel like cooking a nutritious meal loaded with veggies. I think eating a good meal is the first step to feeling better. It will help your body function better, and make you feel better. Who doesn’t love a food coma from comfort food? Cook your loved one their favourite meals: fill our hearts and our stomachs with love.
Tell them you’re there for them—and mean it
These small words can mean a lot—but if you say them, you have to really mean them. Check up on your loved ones. Make them smile. Help them do everyday chores, and encourage them to begin the healing process. Be there for them when they break down. Hang out with them, even if it’s something as banal as watching movies or having coffee. Trust me, the company will do them good. At the very least, it will stop them from doing something they’ll regret later—or something they may never come back from.
We all crave human contact, whether it be through a loving embrace, or a shoulder to cry on. This love is exceptionally important for someone caught in a spiral of self-hatred, trapped inside the insanity of their own mind. Love them endlessly and unconditionally. Be the rock that’s always there for them when their world is spiralling out of control.
I’m not telling you to go out and spend heaps of money—it’s the little things that matter the most. Pick them a flower, draw them a picture, write them a loving letter. Do something—anything—to make them smile, and remind them the world isn’t always a terrible place.
Talk to them
Sometimes you just need somebody to lean on. Let them vent, no matter how repetitive they are, or how illogical their worries may seem. Encourage them to feel their emotions, to process them, to validate them, and let it set them free. All we want sometimes is someone to listen to us, and to understand.
Remember the little things—the beautiful things. The sun licking your closed eyelids. A cool breaze. The smell of flowers. The sweet tweeting of birds. The feel of the ocean on bare feet. The taste of chocolate. The taste and vibrancy of life. Try new things, reintroduce them to old things they love. Send funny memes or cat videos: laughter isn’t the best medicine for nothing.
Love your friends. Love yourself. Life can be beautiful. You are strong, and you can get through this. I love you, and there is always hope. Keep fighting.
Do you need help? Call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or chat online here.
Edit: 22/5/2016 – the opinion disclaimer on this piece has been added since its original posting.