As I prepare for some presentations and workshops this fall/winter, I have spent some time thinking about people who are dealing with mental health issues but don’t seem to have the ability to seek help. For years there has been increased chatter about talking. Bell puts on a “let’s talk” campaign every February. I have written countless blogs on talking, listening, and seeking help. There have been discussions around breaking down the stigma. And just about when you think it is helping another acquaintance dies by suicide.
I am also being reminded how service providers, whether that is salesmen, lenders, grain buyers, and countless others, are often on the front lines and bear the brunt of a customer or client’s stress, manifested in frustrations and anger. In my conversations with them they have shared how they feel lost when these situations arise and are never sure how best to address them.
And there are those who live and are in business with those dealing with mental health issues. So often they are caught in the middle. They understand that there may be problems but don’t know to what extent nor the seriousness of what maybe going on. Perhaps it is something that they have become accustomed to or something new that will pass. And even when the realization hits that this may be more serious there is uncertainty with how to react.
Then there is the perspective of the one living in that crisis. It may be an ongoing problem or something new that has developed and uncertainty prevails. Perhaps it is the stigma attached to mental health, maybe it’s the feeling that it will pass, and maybe it is frustration at knowing that one is slipping, again, into a darkness that we recognize and would like to avoid.
Earlier this summer I read an article about the inability to see when a person may be drowning. To a degree we visualize what we have seen on TV, a person crying for help, waving their arms in desperation, or various other signs of struggling. The article explained that when a person is drowning they are physiologically unable to cry for help as they are too busy trying to breath. As for flagging down help, the victim is utilizing their arms to try to stay afloat and so flagging for help goes beyond instinct and seldom happens. In essence a drowning person cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements to attract attention.
As I read that I could not help but draw a parallel to people living with mental health issues. There are those who are in so deep they are totally incapable of crying for help. For them it is a struggle just to “stay above water”. Those that are crying for help are often perceived to be ones in waist deep water, continuously talk about their state of mind, and their feelings are often diminished. They are not taken seriously.
In keeping with the drowning analogy, the question for many is how can we help a drowning person when we are not a lifeguard. Perhaps in our own minds we struggle with swimming and so rescuing a drowning person is out of the question.
Perhaps we don’t have the expertise to help someone who is overwhelmed with stress, someone in crisis, or someone that is living with depression or anxiety. Perhaps we struggle ourselves to cope, to deal with mental health challenges. At times like this we can be a support. We can validate and normalize what the other is telling us. And most of all we can point that person in the right direction. Help them find the life guard. There is hope and there is relief. Make it a good one.
“People don’t always need advice. Sometimes all they really need is a hand to hold, an ear to listen, and a heart to understand them.” Unknown