So, what do I say? (1st April 2021)
Updated: Oct 14, 2021
In my first column I talked about how I had shared my diagnosis of bipolar 2 disorder with my Facebook friends.
and said that I would talk about the response I received in this column.
I will talk about the general response in a future column, but thought it would be helpful to prioritise two questions that readers have sent my way since that column was published.
Are you planning to talk about what it actually feels like to live with the condition?
Absolutely, yes; my plan is to explore, column by column different elements of my experience of living with bipolar.
How can I provide support? I am sure that I am not alone in not knowing how to respond, support and understand when someone shares that they are living with mental ill health; it feels similar t
o bereavement, people just don't know what to say or do.
Although it is likely that as with the general experience of living with a mental health condition, preferences will be individual, I thought it might be helpful to open the discussion by sharing my o
wn thoughts on this.
As an opener, I would say the most helpful thing to say is something. Anything that demonstrates that you have heard what you have been told and are processing that information and what it means.
So, what does it mean?
From my experience, if someone has shared with you that they are: “Depressed”; “Feeling low”; “Struggling a bit mentally” or “In a bad place”, it usually means that they trust you and/or need your help and support.
They may be
a friend, family member, employee, colleague or service user. If what you are told comes as a surprise, it may mean that they have been working hard to manage their condition in private for some time and sharing the information with you is unlikely to be a decision that they have taken lightly.
Other than now, when I have made the – for me, very big – decision to talk publicly about my mental health, I have only talked about my condition to friends, family and employers on a ‘need to know’ b
When I shared, it was generally because I was struggling, or felt that I had become close enough to someone as a friend that I felt it was fundamental to their understanding of me as a person.
"If someone has shared with you, perhaps the worst thing you can do is to ignore what you have been told"
If you read my first column, you will know that in the past some responses have been unhelpful, and even unkind. But thankfully, far from all.
So, what responses w
ould be unhelpful?
If someone has shared with you, perhaps the worst thing you can do is to ignore what you have been told. Imagine, a colleague has told you that they are feeling depressed and have been for some time. They stop speaking and look at you. You have no idea what to say, and perhaps worry about upsetting or offending them, so the conversation comes to a full stop before
– in a cloud of red faces and fluster – heading off in an entirely new direction.
They have just spent days plucking up the courage to tell you that they spend most of their days feeling cold, dark and afraid to turn on their laptop and now you are asking if they had the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine. Conversation over. The next time you meet it is as though the previous conversation never happened.
Or perhaps they have sent you an e-mail explaining that they are feeling very low and that it is having an impact on their work. You do not know how to respond. So, you ignore it. They wait and wait and do not get a response.
The problem is that now this person`s confi
dence is even more undermined; they have reached out to you, and you have ignored the very important message that they have attempted to share. They may feel uncomfortable, embarrassed and humiliated; perhaps they have misjudged the situation, and now not only do they still need help, but they feel that the person they built up the courage to confide in has rejected them.
So, what would I find helpful?
I am afraid that I have run out of space for now, but I will pick this up next time.
*This was first published by the Nursing Times (https://www.nursingtimes.net/opinion/so-what-do-i-say-01-04-2021/)on 1st April 2021 and is reproduced here with kind permission.