LONDON, Ont. (CUP) 8212; Mental illness can be isolating, leaving the victim alone with her fears or delusions. The person can feel that friends are no longer interested in them. Whether it is paranoia, depression, psychotic episodes, an eating disorder or some other form of mental illness, the victim has to deal with more than their condition.
There are also these things to contend with: Isolation, feelings of abandonment, loneliness, fear of other people, rejection and ostracism. Not many of us want to be around those who are sliding into a mental health crisis. We want to be around “normal” people.
So what should we do when a friend or relative seems to be talking incoherently, has an eating disorder, has become afraid for no apparent reason, or is depressed? It’s tempting to stay away, but consider how important it would be to you, if you were experiencing a mental illness, that your family and friends not abandon you.
The first thing to do when someone you know is having a mental health difficulty is to not abandon that person, but to remain avail- able and be their friend. The main caution here is to watch your own personal boundaries. You cannot become absorbed into the needs the person presents to you.
Sometimes the mentally ill do not appreciate that they are indeed ill. That would mean possibly submitting to treatment 8212; perhaps therapy or medication. And the side effects of mental health medications are not pleas- ant. Weight gain and sluggish behaviour are somewhere near the top of the list.
Friends may not want to hear that they are not behaving well, so you risk your friendship by raising the possibility. Maybe the best that can be done is to offer a gentle suggestion that perhaps all is not well and school counsellors are available to listen and help.
Most of us, when we become mentally ill 8212; and many of us will experience a mental illness in the course of our lives 8212; will do all we can to avoid being seen as ill. We don’t want the stigma of mental disorder to stick to us. And yet, whether we experience mental illness or just observe it, why should there be a stigma? People do not choose to be mentally ill. Though there are likely always things we can do to lessen symptoms, we do not choose to have them.
Perhaps we need to begin with learning about mental illness. That is a choice all of us can make. Reducing the stigma for the sake of our friends who are, or may become, mentally ill will take understanding and knowledge. Reducing the stigma is important, not only for them, but also for anyone else who may become mentally ill.
Not all of us will be in college courses that educate students on mental illness. But we all have access to the website of the Canadian Mental Health Association. It’s a great site to begin learning about the different kinds of mental illnesses, what treatments are available, what mental illnesses are most likely to hit college populations and how to stay mentally healthy.
The Canadian Mental Health Association website is www.cmha.ca.