In the past, I was dead set against all forms of treatment. I didn’t want medicines to change my brain chemistry (still don’t), and I certainly didn’t want to become someone I’m not through therapy. I feared the possibility that I might change entirely, that something about me would be lost. In the end, however, I realized that it was a matter of making the right choices, at the right times. But what can we do when someone is that stubborn?
Remember that ultimately, the decision to seek help must come from the individual. You can offer your support, information, and encouragement, but it’s crucial to respect their choices. If their situation becomes critical, don’t hesitate to involve professionals who can provide guidance on how to best support them or intervene.
In the end, it is their choice and responsibility
As mentioned, the person has to have the will to do it themselves. When someone doesn’t want to get treated, forcing them into it can actually do more harm than good. In fact, here is an interesting article about substance abuse and mandated treatment, citing that overdoses were more after forced treatment in comparison to voluntary activity.
The thing is, if someone doesn’t want to do it, they won’t do it. We see this all the time in the way children and adults learn in the education systems. We do poorly in subjects we don’t like, and amazing in those areas we find motivating. The motivation has to come from within. We have to want to get better.
It’s also not doing you yourself any service if you think it is your burden to bear. If you take the delusional job of a hero, you will only end up losing. Not only will the person you are so valiantly trying to save start to detest you, but you will also break your own health while at it. In the case of adults, the only obligation you have is to call the authorities if you think the person is a danger to themselves or others.
Voice your concern
Now that we’ve got the whole consent thing out of the way, we can talk about things you might do to express your views. Just because you are not kidnapping them to bring them to the psych ward doesn’t mean you have to be silent. Concern is an unquestionably powerful tool and a weapon against demons. It shows you truly care.
When you voice your concerns, you need to be clear and concise. In this moment, it is not so much about what they are doing, but rather what it is doing to you. Talk about how the person’s behavior makes you feel, about your worries. Be as honest as you can, and do not cast judgment on them. After all, this is your point of view, your pain that you are sharing with them. Don’t forget to mention the helplines or whatever you’ve heard about, and that you hope they’ll check it out if they feel like it.
If you are a ‘survivor’, now’s the time to spill it
People like me, who are deep in the ocean of misery, often think they are alone in the universe. The pain has become so much it blinds us to the realities around us. We don’t see the family that loves us. The friends we hang out with seem dull and distant. The realm of mental illness is only for us to live in.
So spill the beans.
If you have a past like mine, talk about it. Talk about the feelings and the darkness, your experiences of it. Connect with the pain, and show that you’ve been there, or at least somewhere nearby. It may just be the key that unlocks the afflicted person’s feelings of being alien. If you came through, maybe they can do it too. Maybe, maybe they are not as big of a failure as they thought they were. Perhaps, dare I say it, they matter.
You can be the beacon of light, the boat that glides through the black waters, searching for survivors. Be honest about your experiences, and if they ask questions, don’t pretty them up. Knowing that the struggle is a part of the healing process is crucial. None of us are perfect and get it on one go. Even I get relapses every now and again. What’s important is how we continue living despite our shortcomings.
Within your boundaries, be there.
Let the person know you will be there for them, but make sure you hold your boundaries. You are not their rag doll or buttler. If you can’t answer phones in the night, then let them know that. Make sure the rules of engagement are clear, and that they know that it is for both your benefit. The mentally ill person can not take over your life, as harsh as it sounds. As I said before, it’s not your job to be the ever-giving hero. You have to also take care of yourself, and that is a priority.
For your own sake, and theirs, you must keep your boundaries without guilt. It is very likely that somewhere down the line the person you are trying to help will attack you. It will be vicious, and manipulative, and they will do all they can to tug at your heartstrings. But you must not yield to their terror.
Borderlines are known to be emotional manipulators. We are very good at it, as our rough schooling in survival has taught us a lot about human behavior. We know which buttons to press to get the desired outcome. And if that doesn’t work, there’s always the morbid threats. I can’t be any clearer about it: if you ever face a situation where someone threatens to kill themselves unless you comply, walk away. Walk away without guilt, shame, or fear. And call the authorities. This is no longer a problem you can deal with alone, or one you should deal with alone.
Again, an immediate threat to the life or health of the person occurs, do not try to handle it by yourself. Make the call. The person might hate you for doing it (the shame of being outed is crushing), but their life and yours are more precious than that. After they’ve got the help they need, you can wash your hands and be of a clear conscience. You’ve done your best.
We have many resources national and international for just these purposes. When the time comes, do not hesitate to use them. And don’t think twice about it if you feel you need to talk to someone about it. You are a treasure, just as much as anyone else. Treat yourself with as much kindness and concern as you would your ill loved one.
A final note to those who struggle with their loved one’s mental illness.
IT IS NEVER YOUR FAULT.
Too many people are coerced into thinking that they are responsible for their child’s, partner’s, or friend’s suicides. This is among the most evil things we can do to our fellow humans. It is a weapon that will break the spirits of those who love and love dearly.
When a person takes their own life or hurts themselves, it is never your fault. They do it because they are in immense pain. Because they are very sick. While it may seem that their pain was caused by you, you can rest assured it isn’t so. The mind of a mentally afflicted person is in a complex state of agony, confusion, and anger. Their sights are colored by that state.
Do not think for a second that their choices are your responsibility. You’ve done the best you could, and that is enough. Your love and efforts are enough. Walk ahead with this knowledge at the forefront of your thoughts. Do so without shame or guilt, without humoring the whispers that call out: “But if only I…”
You’ve done good. You’ve loved and you’ve cared. It’s time to walk back into the light and let the person in the dark follow your lead of their own volition.