I wrote this because I feel that in the conversation on mental health, we should also be including the support system—friends and family of those who have been diagnosed, or who are undergoing mental health problems.
The conversation is focused on the sufferers of mental illness, which is good because it lessens the stigma and encourages us to get the help we need. However, it’s important to also acknowledge the role that friends and family play in this situation.
For us who are mentally ill, it can be tough opening up.
We can feel like a burden, so we isolate ourselves. Thus, when someone makes an effort to reach out, it is so tempting to latch onto them and never want to let go.
However, in our tunnel vision, we can forget that our support system is comprised of humans: humans who get tired, angry, and sad, too. Those who help us also need breaks. We need to remember that they’re not always equipped with the time, energy, or emotional depth needed to deal with our crises.
Now, I’m not saying we should stop relying on people. What I’m saying is, we have to understand that they have limits and boundaries, too—ones we should recognize and respect. That doesn’t make them bad people.
For those who act as a support system for depressives, please remember this line from BoJack Horseman:
You can’t act as a savior all the time (unless you have an intense need to “fix” others, in which case I recommend professional help).
You’ll get burned out when your resources—emotional, mental, maybe even physical—run out. It’s likely that you’ll eventually harbor resentment towards the person you’re helping. They will probably sense this in you, and so feel even more isolated and guilty.
So, don’t be afraid to draw boundaries. Set aside time for self-care. Assess your needs, and take a step back when you need to.
Communication, as always, is key.
For those acting as a support system, talk to the person you’re helping. Set their expectations as to what you can and cannot provide. Encourage them to explore possible support systems outside of you, especially in times when you aren’t equipped to help them.
Speak firmly, but still with compassion: remember, you don’t want them feeling like a burden, but you don’t want to bear all the weight of their problems, too.
For those like me who are depressed, as much as our misery can give us tunnel vision, try to be considerate of others’ feelings as well. For instance, when I need support, I find it’s good to ask something along the lines of, “Are you feeling emotionally stable/strong enough for me to vent? Is now a good time?” If they’re not available, then I find something else to do, or someone else to talk to. (Easier said than done, I know.)
In that vein, try to make connections outside your existing support system. Placing too much pressure onto a single person or a single group of people may not be sustainable.
It’s only now that I realize that relying on others solely, without taking any responsibility for yourself, is a dangerous path to crippling dependence. Watch out for signs that you are being overly dependent or demanding. If you’re unsure as to what demands are reasonable and not, talking to a third party (i.e. a therapist) is a good idea.
Now to draw on some personal experience. Whenever my loved ones don’t support me in the way I feel they should, I feel devastated. I start feeling even more guilty, that their actions (or reactions) are a direct confirmation that I’m truly worthless.
When I feel that way, it’s important that I take a step back and look at the bigger picture. When I feel that people are deliberately trying to distance themselves from me or are ignoring me, I think back to this line from Doctor Strange:
That way, I am reminded that their world does not revolve around me, nor should it.