How You Can Support Those Struggling with Mental Illness

As some of you may know, Mental Health Awareness Week was last month. This means more to some people than it does to others, but for me, it is extremely meaningful. Ever since I can remember, my younger sister Callie has dealt with anxiety. Her anxiety comes in many forms: separation, social, perfectionism, OCD and eventually depression. She has been in treatment centers and has had many different therapists throughout her life. 

My sister Callie

 

In all of this, I have always felt relatively helpless and, to some extent, useless. I have never experienced anxiety and I felt that I couldn’t understand at all what she was going through. During the moments when her anxiety completely took over, my sister was no longer the girl I knew and loved. She became another person. For a long time, I had no idea how to cope with this or how to be a support to her as she struggled to fight her mental illnesses. To be honest, I was scared of her and her emotions. However, over the last few years, I have begun to figure out how exactly I can help her, and as it turns out, it’s the simplest solution: to tell her she is loved, strong and important. To tell her she matters. To tell her she can fight all of the bad thoughts in her head. You can support those you know struggling with mental illness simply by being there for them. Be a shoulder to lean on, a listening ear, an encouraging friend and tell them how much they mean to you. The greatest thing you can do is to let them know you love and accept them for exactly who they are. 

I spent years being afraid of and avoiding this side of my sister during the times she needed me most. Mental illness is not something to be scared of. Just know that their brain works a little differently than yours, and that’s okay. With acts of love and kindness, you can be an amazing support to those who need it most.

Last week, my sister gave a speech to her high school telling her story and sharing the message that it is okay to not be okay, and it’s okay to reach out for help. Here is an excerpt from my favorite part: “Now I can say that I would go back, look my 6th grade self in the eyes and say, ‘You are important, you are worth fighting for’. I would tell her how much lies ahead of her… I would tell her how beautiful she is, with all of her imperfections...I would tell her that asking for help is not weak and I would beg her to reach out to people she trusts more often. I would give her a hug...and I would tell her how proud I am of her.” I am incredibly proud of her courage and resilience, and her ability to share her story. Now is the time to destigmatize mental illness–stop avoiding the subject. By putting in small efforts to be open, loving and accepting, you can support those struggling in incredible ways.

My sister Callie and I

 

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