Why supporting the mental health of a loved one is absolutely crucial

Research shows that 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year.

We all – in various degrees and capacities – love our family members, be it our parents, brothers, sisters or partners. As much as we receive love and care, we are also very likely to be highly critical of our loved ones. When something does not agree with our hopes and expectation, we are more likely to attack them – emotionally, mentally and even physically.

For example, your partner may have cooked you dinner, has spent time, energy and care to prepare the food. However, you come home after a busy day – thinking about the meeting that didn’t go well – you arrive home, at your door and your partner greets you – but instead of greeting back you go straight to your room perhaps even showing some grumpy attitudes. You don’t want your partner to know what has happened, because you don’t want to add to the drama. Later you come for dinner, the food is prepared on the table. Your mind is still ruminating about the meeting, perhaps even feeling anxious about the outcome the following day. Your partner happens to ask you: “honey, how is the food”, and automatically – feeling the work pressure – you say: “it’s okay, it could have been better”. Now of course your partner hoping to get a nice reply, feels inadequate, sad and unappreciated, and replies in rather catastrophic manner: “What I do is never good enough for you”.

What’s happening here. Take a pause.

Here are two situations crossing each other and two individuals unable to understand and communicate what’s going on.

Instead of appreciating the time and effort of your partner, you are too wrapped up with work issues. On the other hand, your partner is not able to relate to your work worries interpret this situation as ‘I am never appreciated’, therefore not a good partner. Unhappiness begins there. What often tend to happen it can repeat the following day, week or month. Now this is just an example of not being able to accept and support the mental health of our loves one in a general sense.

In a deeper sense, of course it is important to understand that mental health illnesses are results of prolong period of experiencing stress, anxiety, panic attacks, loss, sadness, depression, anger, loneliness, abandonment, physical or sexual violence, traumas and wide range of personality disorders – that are often misunderstood or dismissed as ‘sort yourself out and get over it’, as if one wishes to be that way. No, it is not the case. Nobody wants to be intentionally anxious, sad, depressed or angry. Situations happen in life. When the natural defense mechanism cannot cope with the burden of stress, anxiety etc, it turns into a chronic pattern of reacting to situations to initially protect oneself and then to function in the world.

In life, we go through various experiences from the time of being born to where we are now and we form certain view of the world. We could be in the same family or circle of friends or colleagues, but we all experience reality or the world very differently.  Differences are what make us human in a way, but also can cause confusion when it does not agree with our preconceived understanding of the world.

With physical disorders such as tooth act, you are more likely to talk about with your GP, friends and family. Whereas when you experience stress or anxiety in some form, you often keep it to yourself and unable to express it in a helpful way.

We know that our emotions are very power, we either can love and hate. We can create or destroy relationships. When power emotions such as anger arises, we are often at a loss to understand the intention and consequences of such emotions. It also piles up and mixes up with social values, ethical values that give rise to guilt and shame.

Emotions have their own place in our lives. Just like we learn ABCD in our schools, perhaps we need to start learning the ABCD of emotions too. What are they? What do they do? How to relate and respond when such emotions arise.

Of course, we have over the decades have advanced in educating, detecting and treating mental health disorders. However, I believe that emotional health and wellbeing needs to be in the agenda too. It needs to be in the school curriculum. It is something that we as families need to discuss, practise and apply regulating emotions well. Parents need to be well educated on emotions and able to tech and support their children. Just like we’d brush teeth, or jog or go to gym for fitness, we need to learn to do that with our emotions. It is emotional hygiene.

It is something every parents need to know, every schools need to apply, every partners need to apply for health and wellbeing. Otherwise, unhappiness can piled up. Not just material wellbeing, but also emotional wellbeing to have a genuine happy life.

We as a society generally put tremendous emphasis on material wellbeing. From studies to work life, most of our attention goes to increase in material comfort. How about we do that same with our emotional comfort too? Because we are both physical and emotional being, not just the body. Looking after book of these aspects are crucial to a happier life, I believe.

Here are three ways you can start to increase your emotional wellbeing of your loved ones may it be family member, partner or colleague at work.

  1. Start to see mental health as another physical illness such as high blood pressure. There is a huge national campaign in the UK called ‘Time to Change”, and it shows we as society have recognised the need and value to educate the public about this. There is still stigma about mental health, it is time to change. Do not just expect someone to understand you or others by itself, help your family and friends understand the values of emotional wellbeing. It is okay to talk and being listened to. There is nothing wrong in sharing and listening. These are our struggles and success which make up a human being. We as care givers particularly, need to absolutely keep in mind, when spoken or directed about mental health, it is not a mistake. Often what we simply need to do is to accept the reality as it is (it shouldn’t be different from how it is as it shouldn’t happen), it is the way it is. If we can see mental health as mental health and treat is as like any another illness, we can begin to support another person well or at least begin to deal with this epidemic well.
  1. Do not judge the person. There is almost negative bias when being told that someone has a strange thought about something. Start to treat thoughts as thoughts without judging it good or bad in the first place. Why is this important? Because we all have our own judgments from culture, society and upbringing. Often these judgments have profound effects on how we see ourselves and others. They come in the way of experiencing another human being as a human being. We are more likely to see the other person by what he/she wears or possess. How about we start to recognise the person that is in front of you, just the way he/she is. Difficult right? That’s called judgments or conditions. Start by being non-judgmental, meaning rather than automatically seeing what he/she wears and labels, approach with a sense of curiosity as if you are seeing the person for the first time. I am not saying it is going to be easy, but you will be surprised the moment you drop the judgment, you can experience what we can “being” that is ever changing and evolving.
  1. Learn to respond rather than react. This could be quite hard to apply in a family or relationship case, because there is already high degree of expectations of how the person should be or was/is. Therefore, we are more likely to react when we see/hear/taste/feel and think what the other person is saying. We either like or dislike – this is reacting. We are conditioned to either like more of what expect or dislike more of what we don’t expect. However, there is another mode of being which is responding. Responding is about seeing just seeing, of course you can acknowledge what you are seeing or rather than thinking about what you are going to reply. Then you can respond by listening well and giving feedback in a way you are not trying to make the other person superior or inferior, but rather acknowledging the stance. If you do differ of course you can respond by preparing the person with loving speech, meaning you can say for example: “my dear, I know you are going through this, but this is how I am feeling right now. You can give me your feedback after listening to me. I think this is how I feel about the subject. What do you think”? You can even add the phrase: “I wonder…”. The conversation is very different when you start to react: “You never listen to me. You should have spoken to the person earlier. I don’t want to talk to you right now.” Loving speech is a give and take dialogue. One is not better or truer than the other, it is a mutual input and agreement. We can apply the same technique with our thoughts. When we start to notice reacting to difficult thoughts, we can respond by noting: “it is the past and gone. I am thinking of the future which hasn’t happen yet and may not happen the way I want. Therefore intentionally letting go of the thought and bringing yourself back to the present moment on the task at hand – is called “mindfulness”.

If you know anyone in your family or friends circle who may benefit from this blog, please share with them and spread the word. Also leave comments below.

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