‘DEAR DR. JENNY’ EXCLUSIVE COLUMN BY DR. JENNY MARTIN
DO’S & DON’TS FOR MENTAL HEALTH CHECK-INS In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, here are some ways to become more aware when having conversations around mental health. It can be difficult to recognize when loved ones are struggling, and it can be even more confusing to know what to do when they are. The more we speak about the signs of mental illness and have conversations around how to support those struggling, the more power we cultivate toward finding the wellness we all deserve. Here are some tips to keep in mind this month, and beyond. Some of the signs that a person is struggling with depression include increased withdrawal from others, increased moodiness, apathy towards once enjoyed activities, and a generally hopeless demeanor. That said, depression (and every other mental health struggle) can present entirely differently for different people. Trust your instinct. You know the typical feel and behaviors of those in your life. If you notice a change, there is probably something going on.
“You will not push someone over the edge by asking.”
It is ok to ask someone if they are thinking of hurting or killing themselves. It is a misnomer that bringing up the subject can “plant a seed” in someone’s mind. You will not push someone over the edge by asking. In fact, it will likely feel relieving that you noticed and cared. It can feel awkward to ask, but being fairly direct is best. “I’ve felt that you’ve been pulling away lately. It worries me. I have to ask, are you feeling suicidal?” This kind of question conveys empathy and care and may open an important door for your loved one to walk through. Thinking about death does not necessarily mean someone plans to take action. Especially when we are sad or anxious, it can be natural to see death as a form of a relief from pain. If a loved one shares that they are having thoughts of death, it’s important not to panic. Find gratitude that this person feels comfortable enough to be honest with you, and recognize the bravery in sharing. To gain support and learn about what steps you can take if this conversation does occur, call 1-800-273-TALK for 24/7 guidance. On the flip side, here are some tips on things to avoid saying or doing. For instance, if you notice a friend or loved one pulling away, it can be our natural instinct to become annoyed or defensive. Before landing here, take a moment to consider that there may be a hidden storyline beneath your loved one’s exterior. Consider this as you decide how to interact. Be mindful to keep the focus of the conversation on the other person. Your struggle is just as valid as your friend’s, but it’s important to show you are there to listen, not tell. Especially when we are struggling we can be highly susceptible to “grief comparison,” which could lead your friend to shut down and invalidate their feelings. Wanting to share that you can relate is common, but often a more useful approach is, “I don’t have the perfect words or know the best way to help. But I want you to keep telling me how you feel.” 49 AWARENOW / THE MAYDAY EDITION