Why Mental Health Is About More Than Just Self-Care

If you’re struggling, reach out. There is help. There is hope. [insert number for crisis text line]

I’ve seen this kind of message shared in droves over the last couple of years, and admittedly I used to do so whenever I would hear of a prominent celebrity passing away. The intentions are good, but the wording reeks of privilege and implies that society should only do the bare minimum in order to address a widespread crisis. The reality is that verbally disclosing that kind of struggle, whether it’s depression, anxiety, or any kind of mental illness, as not as simple as most PSA’s imply. It’s hard when you’re directly in the midst of a dark moment/season, one that is so emotionally paralyzing that you can’t find the words to articulate what you’re going through. It’s hard when you don’t know how someone will react, and telling them could possibly hurt the relationship and make you feel even smaller than you already do. And it’s hard when you don’t want to be a burden or an inconvenience, and then have it held against you later on.

I read and hear a lot about self-care, and the fluffiness behind it all. Yet, I feel like we should be doing more: we need to take care of each other too.

But how do we do that in a world prides itself in individualism and a “do it yourself” mentality?

How do we do that when everyone seems to keep score of who reaches out to whom, and then holds a grudge if you go a long time without talking?

It starts with one question: How are you today?

If the person says that they’re struggling, you could ask the following: What do you need? How can I support you?

Maybe they need to just get out of the prison that is their own head. Maybe they need to get something off their chest so that it has less power. Maybe they just need to be affirmed that it’s okay to not be okay all the time. Maybe they need help, and have no idea what help looks like or how to get it.

The important thing is to simply hold space, for whatever it is in that moment; no problem solving or preaching about being positive.  Do not assume that they want or need advice unless explicitly asked. Yes, it is unbelievably difficult to see someone in pain. It might seem impossible to listen to anybody try to explain the intensity of their experiences without wanting to run or cover our ears. But it’s not about you, or your comfort. This is about demonstrating love in action through empathy and allowing people to just be who they are, where they are.

Village Care, as I’ve come to call it, doesn’t only have to involve sharing and being vulnerable. It could be offering to help find a therapist or treatment program, driving people to and from appointments, or offering to babysit if they have kids. When I was going to a support group for my eating disorder, I very much appreciated when family members or friends would go with me. It showed me that they wanted to learn about what I was dealing with, and how they could love me and walk with me in my recovery.

Having been both the listener and the talker, there should always be boundaries. I do not keep my phone on at night unless specifically asked, and I don’t have the energy to keep my DM’s open all the time. A child, regardless of age, should not have to play a role bigger than themselves in their parents’ crumbling marriage. In dating relationships, a significant other should not pay the price or be the solution to their boyfriend/girlfriend’s previous relational pain. If a loved one knows they need professional help, yet continues to expect you to act as such instead of seeking it, it’s okay to draw a line. I care about you and I support you, but this is beyond what I’m able to do for you. Can I help you find someone more qualified?

Setting boundaries might feel like abandonment at first, but no relationship is worth compromising your emotional and physical health over. You’re not leaving them as much as you’re recognizing that you cannot save them, and they have to do their part too.

And sometimes, there are seasons where we just don’t have the energy or stamina to be there for someone in the way that we’d like to. It might be too painful, too triggering, and end up setting us back in our own journey. There is absolutely no shame in that, but the response should always be with love and compassion.

Lord knows I have failed at empathy many times, and I am still learning. It is never too late to learn how to do something, especially if what you learn might help save someone’s life.

We say that we are not alone, and I believe that. But it’s about time we stop saying it to merely pay lip service, and start making an effort to make it a reality.

Be Brave enough to go first. Set your pride, ego, or whatever it is aside and go to them. And then keep checking in.

You are wanted and you are needed. Probably more than you know.

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