The mental health dilemma is ingrained in our psychological make up out of survival. We cannot except other folks normal without reverting to some “self supporting” statement that assures us we’re safe, and maybe that’s why we’re not safe. We have empathy for the physically ill and contempt for the psychologically ill.
I’ve seen folks openly grieve on social media for a family member who suffered a heart attack. Praising God and thanking friends who’ve stepped up to help the family members. Hundreds of likes and comments lift up the family and friends in a beautiful display of community and friendship.
On the flip side we don’t see the devastating drama that unfolds with a psychological attack. These incidents remain hidden for posterity.
Our reactions are self preserving. We don’t know how to help so we read, or write, statements attacking the person. “God helps those who helped themselves.”, or “He or she has to snap out if it.” These statements are an example of folks frustrated with not having an answer. Not being able to say something or do something that will make things better. The crazy thing is that all you really can do to help in these situations is take the time to say and do things.
We have to really consider honestly relying on each other. We cannot depend on health care folks. Chances are that the person with psychological trauma or drama will end up compounding their problems with prescriptions that will overwhelm them and create further problems. Once we understand that “pills” don’t cure, they treat symptoms to give our minds and bodies time to heal we may have a starting point.
The therapist is safe. Contrary to popular conceptions the therapist listens, talks, and offers insights into strategies, like a friend should. He or she won’t “prescribe” a substance to heal. He or she will prescribe strategies for the individual and their support to better understand what they’re experiencing.
On the flip side we also have to be honest with the heart attack victim, or the diabetic who’s obese. The sentiments for these folks are beautiful, but misplaced. For most, (notice I didn’t say all) these are self inflicted dramas. Years of over eating, tobacco use, alcohol, or prescription medication or street drugs catch up to us after a bit. Lack of sleep is a big factor overlooked for prosperity.
So we treat mental health with isolation and physical health with sympathy. I didnt use the word empathy because it is a constructive emotion that requires honesty.
It’s hard for me to think I got so twisted I can’t tell my friend with lifestyle issues to wake up, nor tell my friend with emotional problems I’m there for them no matter. Is it as simple as I can send my lifestyle friend to get help I know I can’t provide. On the other hand I can’t fix my friend with psychological problems with an operation and floral filled room of recovery.
These problems take years to heal. Depression, anxiety, complex psychological disorders all take time and patience. This is diametrically opposed to the contemporary psyche. Instant gratification rules. So I’m supposed to treat my friend like a sports team mate or soldier on the battlefield. Just shake my head and recite some platitude as if they passed away.
We, as family or friends, are part of the individual problems associated with recovering from and dealing with psychological illnesses as we are with communicable diseases. We can’t just wash our hands and protect ourselves from psychological distresses so we keep our distance. We can don a protective mask and wash our hands when visiting our physically ill friend. We can put on sad eyes above the mask and look them in the eyes pretending some anomaly attacked them. Later we can hint or whisper about “putting the spoon down” or the years he or she spent over indulging some other substance.
Truth is that helping a friend or family member with a psychological illness requires years of personal interaction that is honest and thoughtful.
Empathy is harder than sympathy. One you have to hold someone’s hand, look them in the eyes, and say things so that they know you care. The other you can share the old “wink and nod” and ignore that they had a hand in their drama while they ignore the fact there is a reason you care that has little to do with them.