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Five Ways to Support Mental Health Struggles

02/20/2013 05:25 EST | Updated 04/22/2013 05:12 EDT

When I first saw this commercial on TV, I cried.

It hit a little too close to home.

It took me back to a time when my anxiety was so crippling that the thought of anyone seeing me look "weak" would bring me to my knees. It was better to be in isolation than appear anything less than perfect.

• It's exhausting trying to "keep it together."

• To keep saying that you're fine, when you're really not.

• To lie to others...and lie to yourself.

• To suffer in silence...because you feel it's your only option or worse; because you believe that you deserve to.

According to the Canadian Institute of Health Research, 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a form of mental illness at some point in their lives. And a staggering two in three people suffer in silence out of fear of judgment and rejection.

I will be the first person to admit that I am not an expert on mental illness. What I do know is that it took me a very long time to be able to say "no, I'm not ok."

It was a long road but I've learned with time that talking about mental health is the first step in making a difference in your life and in the lives of others.

Silence is the breeding ground for fear and secrecy but community and support are the antidotes. (Tweet this, if you like)

Recent campaigns such as Bell Canada's #BellLetsTalk are great ways to end the silence struggle and hopefully get more people to stop saying they're fine.

Here a few tips based on my experience to help support someone with mental health struggles:

Listen more than you speak

Remember that sharing is often a deeply personal decision and a very scary thing to do. Create an environment where your loved one can feel vulnerable and not judged and safe instead of scrutinized. Listen attentively and provide feedback once they have had their opportunity to be heard.

What works for you may not work for others

There is no one-sized fits all method when it comes to making a connection with someone. Just because you've had success using a specific method on yourself or another person, doesn't mean it will work with someone else. Everyone is different so avoid trying to "recommend doing things your way" without fully understanding someone's situation.

Give space as needed

Sometimes folks just need a little breathing room. Naturally if a person is in danger of hurting themselves or others, then you should step in but there will be times when you need to give the loved one in your life the space to recollect their thoughts. Stepping away doesn't mean that you are letting them fend for themselves, rather it is acknowledging that there will be times that some breathing space may be necessary.

Never stop showing that you care

This is especially important if you have to give folks space. Personally I know there were times when I would go out of my way to shut people out. But I never forgot the attempts from the ones that wanted to help me through my challenges even when I was stone faced. Showering a person with love even when it isn't reciprocated helps more than you know.

Seek help when the problem is outside of your expertise

At some point there will be times when you have to hand over the reigns to professionals if the situation warrants it. There is no shame in asking for help or taking it. Continue to be a support system for your loved ones but don't be afraid to seek out more help if your expertise can no longer help a loved through their challenge.

If you are struggling with a mental illness I encourage you to turn to a loved one and/or trained professional. For folks supporting a loved one through a mental health crisis, even though there will be times when it feels that your presence is not appreciated, stay committed for the long haul to provide your support and seek help if you need it!

Together we can remove the stigma of mental illness and encourage more people to talk instead of suffer in silence.

Resources

Kids Help Phone

1-800-668-6868

http://kidshelpphone.ca

Canadian Mental Health Association

http://cmha.ca

Let's Talk

Have you experienced a mental health challenge or know someone going through it, how have you managed or do you have tips for making the process of sharing easier?

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