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Together Through the Storms

Mental health illness or conditions do not only affect the individual but also those around them.

When a work colleague, friend of family member is overcome with illness there will inevitably be symptoms.

If it’s a physical injury or illness the symptoms will be clear and visible, such as blood.

Symptoms of mental health illness tend to not be as visible or as recognisable as symptoms, angry outbursts, uncontrollable crying, disturbed or confused thoughts, memory problems. Simple processes or tasks can become confusing and they may seek constant reassurance. These can be viewed as bad behaviour but if they are the result of an illness they are symptoms and management of them must be learned.

Remember the person with the illness is not in control of the symptoms or pain that they experience. While their symptoms may feel like an attack, they are not. They are simply symptoms.

For those close to the person with the illness this can become frustrating and energy draining. leading to increased anxiety or depressive symptoms or a sense of powerlessness. Often feelings of guilt and second guessing ourselves can result. We can feel shame about the handling of our friend, colleagues or relatives symptoms.

Why am I constantly under attack? May be a regular thought. However we need to be clear, you are not, it’s simple your system reacting to the symptoms. Our automatic reaction is fight, flight or freeze mode. As the anxiety from the ill individual increases, so too does your own natural defences and leads to reactive behaviours.

Evidence clearly shows that people are more susceptible to illnesses such as Seasonal Affective Disorder when they have a family member with an existing mental health illness.

So what does this tell us, well it means that symptoms of mental health illness ripple outwards and impact on everyone in the surrounding environment.

We close our eyes.

It can be far easier to close our eyes to mental health illness in relatives, colleagues or friends because it means we don’t need to accept change. We don’t have to communicate differently or care differently, we don’t need to deal with it.

For example it may be easier to close our eyes to a father who once seemed invincible to the world that becomes ill and suddenly, he’s human, he has vulnerability, he is no longer the sole care provider but in need of care.

This is difficult for all involved including the father, the changes can become overwhelming and difficult to manage or express and result in symptoms of anger or sadness, often aimed at those close.

Men are not taught to express emotion or vulnerability.

These changes can also make relationships stronger and more intimate as barriers that have been built through unrecognised symptoms and miscommunication become understood.

So remember open your eyes and look around, recognise symptoms for what they are and support your relatives, friends and colleagues through the storm together.