This is a guest post by my friend and colleague, Jeff Janes. Here’s how Jeff describes himself: “I travel the world to find things to photograph and write about.” Jeff is currently based in the Arabian Gulf.
“Like many people, I have some medical conditions. While some suffer from diseases that affect their physical health, I am one of 450 million people in the world to have a condition with a three- and four- letter acronym: MDD, GAD and PTSD. If you aren’t aware of what these acronyms mean, you may never have experienced these particular illnesses. Major Depressive Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are a trio of illnesses that often arrive together for people who’ve been exposed to traumatic situations.
If you have a friend, colleague, or family member who has a mental illness, you may be extra concerned about that person during this COVID-19 period. Everyone is experiencing the stress of exposure to the virus and the related concerns about loved ones’ wellbeing. People are stuck at home. Some have lost their jobs and are wondering how they will survive after the next set of bills comes due. For people with mental health conditions, the enormous challenges of this period in history may be extremely difficult to bear.
While I cannot tell you exactly what kind of support your friend with depression or your loved one with anxiety wants from you, I can tell you that closed-ended statements are the most frustrating for them to read or hear. These statements show neither empathy nor sympathy. When you say something like, “Don’t worry, you’ll get over it” or “Look on the bright side; it could be worse,” you shut the conversation down. Closed-ended statements deny your friend any option for a response.
To truly help someone, create opportunities to listen
Whether you’re writing a quick email or text or checking in with your loved one by phone, try one of these seven-word open-ended questions and statements:
- How are you feeling about life today?
- What are you worrying about the most?
- Is there anything I can help with?
- I want you to know I care.
- I’m here if you want to talk.
These may be the seven most important words you ever type into your phone. They may be the difference between life and death for the friends who are in difficult positions right now. They may be the spark your loved ones need to start getting better, to start seeing light at the end of what feels like a never-ending, extremely dark tunnel.
You do not need to know how to recognize a mental health condition to help someone with one. You don’t need to know that someone is low or depressed to create a connection that enables them to cope, and maybe even begin to recover. All you need to do is create the opportunity to listen.”
- If you know someone who may be in immediate danger of causing themselves or others harm, call 911 without hesitation.
- The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has a list of services for people with mental illnesses.