A Guide to Dealing with Troubled Minds
We often meet people who we would think of as troubled souls. Usually, it is their mind that is troubled by their emotional reactions and circumstances more than what would be considered “normal”. According to the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS) in 2014, around one in six adults (17 per cent) surveyed in England met the criteria for a common mental disorder (CMD).
Since this is so widespread, we may have possibly come across someone with a CMD in our day to day life; sometimes without even realising it because many people find it challenging to show vulnerability. However, some people may want to talk about their mental health issues themselves. In either case, we might do more harm than good if we do not handle the situation carefully and sensitively. We should strive to understand and be empathetic, while at the same time not be too intrusive or tactless.
People should be encouraged to talk openly about their mental health problems and we should all learn how to sensibly handle such interactions. Here are a few tips for reaching out to and having authentic and helpful conversations with people suffering from a CMD:
Look for hints
People do not normally talk about the troubles that they are having. So be on the lookout for subtle or obvious behavioural changes in people around you. If, for example, someone slowly detaches themselves from the world around them and their feelings, it does not mean that they are okay with the way things are and would probably appreciate help, if offered.
Validate feelings and emotions
Opening up about problems takes courage, so people should not be made to feel that their troubles and feelings are insignificant or invalid. Therefore, refrain from dismissing anyone’s problem because that might hurt the person’s self-esteem and may discourage them from opening up to you or anyone else. It would help more if you tell them that you understand and that you are available for them instead of dismissing their feelings or behaviour as just a phase that they are going through.
Remove prejudices and listen
One of the reasons why people do not talk openly about their mental health issues is the fear of being judged by those with whom they would share their intimate personal details. It is best not to introduce own opinions and biases as this can cause distrust, embarrassment or damage to relationships. So, for example, if a person has a disorder that involves exhibiting certain physical behaviours, you could simply try to ignore their repetitive behaviour or suggest removing its cause, since certain behaviours become aggravated only in triggering situations. This would make the person feel more at-ease in your presence and build a relationship of trust.
Give them space
Asking excessive questions would probably feel intrusive and could irritate people with a CMD if they are asked to share more than they are willing to. Alternatively, they might wonder whether opening up to you has made you concerned about them and hence, caused you distress. In that case, they may refrain from sharing further so as not to burden you. So just let them know that you are available if and when they feel like sharing. This not only would give them the liberty to share as much or as little at their convenience, but would also help to build confidence in the relationship.
Help when needed
Helping does not only mean being empathetic and listening attentively. It also means convincing people to seek professional help, where necessary. As well-meaning family and friends, encourage them to find help wherever possible because we, as laymen, do not possess the tools to cure underlying health conditions of a troubled mind, even if we can provide the social support, moral encouragement and safety net to our near and dear ones.
In the modern age of internet, getting professional help has become easier than ever via platforms like Ed-watch. Everyone has a role to play in removing taboos associated with mental health issues and encouraging people to heal and seek support. Family and friends can be a very strong support system but it is important to know when to contact a professional. In order to do that, it is necessary for all of us to educate ourselves about CMDs and pay attention to the needs of people around us.