How to reduce mental illness

This article has been written to inform people how to support people with mental wellness challenges and assist in reducing the mental illness recovery process timeframe.

As a consumer of mental health support and services (view Founder’s Story), plus a provider of personalised digital self-help resources + tools, I have collected from vast experience and insights the do’s and don’ts when assisting people with mental illnesses.

For me, moving onto a positive path and looking to forward to the future took a long time, due to a number of obstacles put in my path along the way. The key elements are outlined under the tips + suggestions tabs.

My experience is not a soul one, as I am connected to about 100,000+ people via social support groups, and the similar elements tend to regularly pop up for people on the path to recovery, which can compound isolation.

You may find it difficult talking to someone with a mental health issue, but knowing the basics can really a difference and potentially assist with faster recovery or management.

We often avoid discussing mental health because of fear, stigma or simply not knowing what to say. But this may make matters worse. Support from friends, family and health professionals plays a significant role in the recovery process and subsequent maintenance process. You can make a big difference through small gestures, like listening, keeping in touch and showing you care.

Many worry about saying the wrong thing to someone with a mental health challenge. Your friend or loved one may or may not want to discuss their mental health issues with you, but it’s important they know they don’t have to avoid the subject.

It’s not always easy to tell if someone has a mental illness. It’s important to raise your concerns with them, even though they might deny the problem and be reluctant or refuse to get help. They can potentially react with anger, shame or embarrassment. However, raising concern can possibly enable that person to start thinking of taking action with their mental wellness.

Here are some key elements in helping to reduce the mental wellness recovery process.

Tips + Suggestions

If someone you know is affected by a mental health issue, getting support from friends, family and colleagues can make all the difference to their recovery.

If you know someone who shows signs of a mental health problem or reaches out for help, you could offer support by:

  • asking how they are
  • being available to listen
  • acknowledging how they are feeling
  • asking what you can do to help
  • choosing a good time and place to talk, when you are both relaxed
  • being sensitive, positive and encouraging
  • keeping the conversation relaxed and open
  • talking about other topics too – don’t let a mental health issue become the centre of your relationship
  • being informed – read quality, evidence-based information and become familiar with the signs and symptoms of their mental health issue
  • starting slowly – try small actions first, such as going for a walk or visiting a friend
  • encouraging them to get enough sleep, eat healthy food and exercise
  • discouraging them from self-medicating with alcohol or drugs
  • inviting them out, and encouraging other people in your lives to do so too
  • offering practical support, such as doing their shopping or cooking meals
  • encouraging them to seek help immediately if they are at risk of suicide or self-harm
  • looking after yourself too – see a mental health professional if you think it might help
  • explaining why you’re concerned and offer examples
  • using ‘I statements’, such as ‘I’m worried…’ or ‘I’ve noticed…’
  • providing information, such as books or brochures for them to read in their own time
  • offering to make an appointment with a doctor or mental health professional on their behalf, and offering to take them
  • accessing support services available to carers and friends of people with mental health issues
  • being proactive – find out the first steps to take.

It takes courage to ask simply and directly, ‘are you okay?’, if concerned about someone’s mental health.

Yet asking questions is a crucial component in showing you care and are supportive.

What if they’re actually fine? Will they be offended? And what do you do if they aren’t okay?

These are common concerns people have when it comes to asking a friend, colleague or loved one ‘are you okay?’. So it’s tempting to frame the question in a way that encourages a positive response, ‘you’re okay, aren’t you?’

We often do this because we’re not sure how to respond if the answer is ‘no’. But that’s certainly not helping your friend, and it reinforces the reluctance or stigma we feel when talking about mental illness.

Helpful and supportive questions to ask when responding to someone who isn’t ‘Okay.’

  • A simple, ‘I’m sorry to hear that’ is a good response. Maybe follow up with, ‘would you like to talk about it?’ to open up the conversation if the time and situation are appropriate. If not, agree on a more suitable time to talk.
  • At times it can help to mention any changes you’ve observed that are causing concern. For example, if someone seems more withdrawn than usual (which can be a symptom of depression, several other conditions), you could say ‘I’ve noticed that you’ve not wanted to come out much lately. Is there something worrying you?’
  • There is great comfort to be given by merely listening and caring. There are often too few opportunities in our busy lives for connections based on these simple kindnesses. Sometimes, also, people find it easier to talk when doing something like going for a walk, rather than sitting across a table from someone.
  • Focus on asking questions rather than trying to provide answers. Giving people a chance to share their experiences and voice their concerns without judgement is of great benefit. It helps people to feel less alone and more hopeful. Remember that responsibility for finding solutions does not lie with you. The best solutions are generally reached by the person themselves, but a guiding path may assist in finding a solution quicker.
  • Check whether they are linked in with professional support + services. If someone is thinking about suicide, it’s especially important that they know that help is available. Lifeline has telephone and online support 24 hours a day, or in an emergency call emergency services.

It is easy to have a particular opinion about a person with mental health, but conclusions based on myths, or without research or understanding the actual circumstances that lead to mental illness add to stigma and make life harder for people affected by mental illness.

It is relevant to fact check (including asking open questions from the affected person) to better understand paths that provide support and encourage hope for a person mental illness.

Causes of mental illness are complex

There isn’t one simple, obvious thing, like a virus or bacteria, that causes mental illness, and that makes the causes hard to work out.

For some mental illnesses, like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, it’s possible to inherit a predisposition — a greater likelihood that a person will develop the disorder. For others, there seems to be no genetic link at all.

A likelihood of developing a mental illness is influenced by a complex combination of genetic, neurological, developmental, environmental, socio-economic, cultural, life experience and other factors.

The Stellarpaths Wellness Assist helps to identify risk factors for each mental illness condition and is an excellent path to finding information about conditions, symptoms, treatments, strategies and wellness stages.

Statistically, abuse occurs in one-in-four homes. About 70% of mental illnesses are from abuse or trauma.

Abuse may be physical, sexual, psychological or verbal. It may not always be evident or easily recognised. Regardless of the form it takes, abuse cannot be tolerated. We need to be proactive in identifying abuse and putting mechanisms in place to snuff it out.

If a person is abused when a child they are more likely to experience mental disorders or mental illness during childhood and into adulthood.

Abuse can cause feelings of low self-esteem, lack self-confidence, depression, isolation and anger all feelings that impair a chance to lead a happy life.

Trust in others and feelings of being safe and cared for are critical components to recovery from abuse. Support is vital, and professional counselling is sometimes required. If abuse is discovered early, the chances of a person returning to a healthy state of mind and avoiding severe mental disorders are greatly enhanced.

It’s easy to tear trust and the feeling of support down, and it’s hard to build them up, especially if you’ve spent years doing things that aren’t congruent.

People learn to trust and feel supported through actions we take. This is important with people who are experiencing mental illness.

If you say you care or love someone, demonstrate it through actions. If your actions are not congruent with what you say you have no legitimacy.

It’s the little things that count. Congruency isn’t about significant actions; it’s about the little things we do. When a minor event happens or a request for help + support, how do you handle it?

Trust is built a little bit at a time, and often it’s taken away a little at a time. It’s small things that add up to big things.

It’s the little things that count. Congruency isn’t about significant actions; it’s about the little things we do.

Trust is built a little bit at a time, and often it’s taken away a little at a time. It’s small things that add up to big things. Not supporting or caring for a person, means your taking a debit in your trust account.

It’s about matching your words and deeds. Congruency is where words meet acts. We all might give someone else the benefit of the doubt, but when small injustices continue to happen, we think less of the other person.

Unless you’ve been clear about the support or care you can offer, along with the acceptable boundaries you will take another debit and also delay the recovery process for the person with a mental wellness challenge.

Recovering from mental illness includes not only getting better but achieving a full and satisfying life.

Many people affirm that their journey to recovery has not been a straight, steady road. Instead, there are ups and downs, new discoveries and setbacks. Over time, it is possible to look back and see, despite the halting progress and discouragements, how far people with mental illness have really come.

Each time they reach such a milestone, they have recovered a piece of their lives and draw strength from it. When noticing milestones being achieved, left them to know, as it further encourages them on their path.

The journey to full recovery takes time (the length unknown), but positive changes can happen all along the way.

Understand the stages of recovery.

Having a mental illness can affect lives in many ways:

  • Normal activities suffer;
  • Intimate relationships can be profoundly affected;
  • Friendships may be lost;
  • Lose employment, and financial security can occur.

The pain of mental illness, coupled with such losses, can be overwhelming. Yet at some point, determination to stop just surviving, and start gaining back life, piece by piece. That is when recovery begins. This is where people really feel they are supported and cared about.

Early on in the recovery process, treatment may focus on finding the right diagnosis and relieving the most severe symptoms. Giving support to those with mental illness is vital. Family, friends, colleagues, wellness professionals, self-help groups, can all be of help, let them know that.

Research shows that being connected to others is essential for mental well-being and can be a protective factor against anxiety and depression. However, not everyone is as connected as they would like to be. When people suffer mental illness, the risk factors for experiencing isolation and loneliness.

For me, when I was misdiagnosed and could not find adequate treatment + support, I fell off the radar for four months in 2016, where no one contacted me to see how progress was going, it was the most isolating event ever experienced where at the time I thought no one cared about me.

When you think about your support and social circle, is there someone who has retreated into their shell, or started to not catch up as often?

Has anyone that you know recently:

  • had a significant life change event
  • developed a chronic health condition
  • had a breakdown
  • lost their job
  • experienced a known trauma event
  • suffered a bereavement

These factors could lead to the person losing connections and falling out of the support and social circles, and possibly also off that circle’s radar.

Additionally, if the person has anxiety or depression, it can make it even more difficult to be motivated to socialise. They may find it easier to withdraw than to connect and socialise.

They may be at a stage where they feel it is easier to be isolated than to experience the anxiety or worry of attending social functions.

It’s useful to know that there are many things you can do to help support the person and improve their connections with their friends and community.

Based on your previous relationship, you are well-placed to encourage the person to connect and socialise. You can take steps to spend time with the person and help them to reconnect and rejoin social occasions.

Spend some time thinking about the person’s situation and interests and hobbies that may help you reconnect with them.

  • Do you have mutual friends who know the person well?
  • Perhaps they know more about the person’s interests.
  • Is there an upcoming event that might be of interest to the person that you could invite them to?
  • Consider any obstacles that might prevent the person from attending.

Mental wellness support services are still highly fragmented. Even though there is greater awareness of mental health, getting vital information on how to help, educate and discover strategies and tools to better support people with a mental illness is in itself a tricky time consuming long process.

This is why Stellarpaths Wellness Assist was developed. The key driver for the creation was to due to my mother never being diagnosed when it was highly likely she suffered a mental illness, similar to other possible relatives due to the trauma they experienced in childhood. Plus my misdiagnosis and the challenges of getting the right support and therapies that were needed, thus delaying my turning my life around by three years.

Also, the mental health sector is still far from reaching the digitised tipping point, to speed up information flow and wellness strategies development was the other primary driver.

The below embedded knowledge base provides integrated resources, services and tools to assist in the path of wellness and hope.

A better understanding of people with a mental health disorder.

Stellarpaths has developed Wellness Assist. Resources, services and tools that can be accessed by inputting conditions, symptoms or treatments. This will then link to other supporting information, like strategies, nearby therapists, videos insights, supportive tools + apps, plus other options.

As an example type in the condition “Depression

Note, just like when Google and Wikipedia initially launched, their data quality and breadth was high, to very high rapidly, so will Stellarpaths as we connect more information points to mental illnesses.