Oct 10th is World Mental Health Day 2016 and the theme for this year is “Psychological First Aid”.
I interpret that as “how do you help someone who has mental health concerns”.
Mental Health. That’s about as broad as saying, “Physical Health”. It’s such a wide spectrum of issues and diseases, there really is no one-size-fits-all approach to how you can help.
But when I listen to people who are suffering from mental illnesses, caregivers and mental health professionals, it would seem that these are the common statements that occur, repeatedly.
- Don’t dismiss their thoughts.
- But don’t feed into it, either.
- Don’t tell them what they should do.
- Instead, suggest resources or support options for them to check out. These could be talking to a trusted family member, or perhaps a trained counsellor in a non-clinical space. Or it might be pointing them to useful weblinks.
Here’s an example:
Your friend is feeling paranoid. She is saying that people at her work place are gossiping about her, that someone is looking to get her fired.
She has been having these thoughts for a couple of months now, and it’s impacting her sleep, her concentration, her interest levels in her regular activities.
What do you do?
Do you tell her to just shake it off, that it’s nothing at all?
Do you tell her to jump back into her usual fun activities, like meeting up with friends or doing sports?
Or do you tell her that she’s right, that people at work are probably gossiping about her and that she should confront them or start her own backstabbing vendetta?
The answer is…none of the above.
As the checklist says, just listen, but neither dismiss nor encourage those thoughts.
Instead, you could respond by asking her if she had a trusted colleague with whom she could voice her concerns, and see if her colleague could help ascertain certain truths.
In this way, you are neither brushing off what she is saying, nor are you accepting what she is saying.
If indeed, she comes back to you and says that her colleague says no such gossiping is happening, then your friend may be having delusional thoughts about the situation.
Having delusional thoughts is one of the symptoms of Schizophrenia, a major mental illness that impacts people’s perception of reality.
(Another common symptom is that they hear voices in their head, but I will write about that in a later article).
And in this case, you may want to gently suggest contacting mental health support groups like those run by Singapore Association for Mental Health or CHAT (for youths between 16-30 years old) for a mental health check and offer to accompany her.
If you are aware of any articles online that might help, you could also point her to those websites.
Of course, if it is in crisis mode, where you are concerned that your friend might be in danger of either harming herself or others, do not let your own fear of upsetting your friend stop you from taking charge.
Your options are to call the 24-hour hotlines of SOS or IMH (listed below) or inform a family member to bring her to the A&E department of any hospital or bring her there yourself.*
Your friend may have told you things in confidence but when things appear dire, you have to do what’s right for her, even if that means “betraying” her confidence.
Just as with anything, it takes practice. I know what it is like to be quick to offer an “unwanted” solution and also, to be on the receiving end of well-meaning friends who are just trying to help.
But often, in the words of what a young lady, a peer support specialist from CHAT, who has first-hand experience with schizophrenia told me – “I don’t need solutions. I just need someone to journey through this with me”.
*More information on the Community Health Assessment Team (CHAT) website: https://www.chat.mentalhealth.sg/get-help/mental-health-check/. CHAT is a national outreach and mental health check programme under the Institute of Mental Health’s Early Psychosis Intervention Programme (EPIP). The EPIP and CHAT teams comprise doctors, case managers, youth workers, mental health advocates, and peer support specialists with lived experience of psychosis.”
Some Support Resources:
Samaritans of Singapore (SOS): 1800 221 4444 (24hrs), http://www.samaritans.org.sg/
Institute of Mental Health (IMH): 6389 2222 (24hrs), http://www.imh.com.sg/contact-us/
Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH), 1800 283 7019: http://www.samhealth.org.sg/mental-health-information/
CHAT: 6493 6500 / 6501, https://www.chat.mentalhealth.sg/
Counselling and Care Centre: http://www.counsel.org.sg/counselling/counselling-philosophy
Care Counselling Centre (Mandarin-speaking): 6353 1180, http://www.carecorner.org.sg/cccc.html
Caregivers Alliance Singapore (CAL): http://www.cal.org.sg/
Caregivers Association for Mentally Ill (CAMI): http://www.cami.org.sg/helpline.html