A few weeks ago I went through a huge range of mental health, so I want to document that experience here for your benefit so that you can use it as a reference for understanding your own mental health, for understanding the mental health of others, and so you know how to use that understanding to help yourself or others.
Stage 1. I felt so bad that I started hallucinating. In the shadows of the night I’d see faces staring back at me when I know there’s nothing there. But because my mental health is weak, then the part of my brain that separates fantasy from reality got blurred.
Stage 2. Then as I regained sanity, I could sense that I was unwell, but I couldn’t tell what was unwell. This is the stage where so many problems exist that no one problem can stand out as a singular one to work on. The problems that are critical that simultaneously exist are: sleep deprivation, emotional vulnerability and emptiness, malnourishment. Unresolved trauma. Unresolved pain. Unresolved many things. Lack of motivation. But the key point is: Lack of belief in a brighter future. I don’t think taking steps to improve my condition will eventually pay off, so that’s why I don’t take any steps at all. I do NOT believe in a brighter future.
Stage 3. Then as I regain hope that there does exist a brighter future, I begin taking steps to get to that brighter future. Then this stage is where I’m actively trying to make good decisions, but I’m too emotionally damaged to not give in to my emotions and make bad decisions due to sadness/loneliness/depression/etc. I’ll reach out to bad sources of feeling better that keep me stuck in a bad place rather than say sleep early, eat well, exercise, socialize, etc.
Stage 4. Then as I successfully take a step forward in sleeping properly, I regain some sense of control and decision making ability and I start making my bed every morning. I also start watching videos about self help and how to improve. The process is beginning to take shape and become a habit for me: a habit to improve my situation.
Stage 5. Then I start organizing my life. I start keeping a schedule. I start setting goals for the day, tasks, and then completing maybe one of them. I might complete 4-5 tasks a week, which is an extreme improvement from 0 tasks due to 0 belief in a brighter future and 0 motivation to take any step towards improving my situation.
Stage 6. As the steps forward and the task progress continues over weeks and weeks, I begin having the self worth and self confidence to face the world and reach out to friends to socialize. To take walks and get the valuable exposure to nature/weather/sun/out doors/fresh air/new experiences/contact with other humans/etc.
Let’s revisit each stage now and see what you could do to help someone else if they were in that stage.
Stage 1 is they are hallucinating. Google how to calm someone down without saying “calm down.” Be there with them, reach out to them heart to heart and pull them from the darkness that is a world where nightmares and reality have merged and they don’t know what’s stable ground to stand on anymore. Be that rock for them and remind them of the truths of the world. Gently. Again, google how to give feedback in a non-threatening way. (Non-Violent Communication Book). Often just being there and shutting up is good enough.
Stage 2. They are sane, but they have 0 motivation to improve themselves. In this stage DO NOT TELL THEM TO GO DO STUFF. Or at least not directly. Here you have to use persuasion and leadership. Find a way to make them want to do so themselves, rather than have the motivation come from you. Develop an intrinsic motivation within them. How? My method is to understand their situation: what do they think about the world that results in them concluding that there is no brighter future? Diagnose their world view and perspective by LISTENING TO UNDERSTAND and NOT to criticize. Once you understand their point of view and make them feel heard, then you have earned their trust. ONLY THEN can you ask for their PERMISSION to guide them to a better way. This may take days and many sessions but you must go at their speed and be patient.
Stage 3. They have decided to improve their life and they are now on their way and they run into roadblocks with willpower or knowledge or habits or anything at all. You want to be a supporter. again, NO criticism. Come with understanding, emotional depth of understanding, support, encouragement, and help. Check in OFTEN with them, daily if possible, to see their condition, NON JUDGMENTALLY, and then guide them. Give them the strength to do the right thing by helping them do it. They are very weak at this stage and will struggle without your constant support.
Stage 4. Start complimenting them on what they’ve accomplished, and constantly remind them of what they have accomplished. They are in this world where there’s so much work left to be done. Don’t be the person who makes that stress and pressure worse by piling on more demands and expectations. Give them the strength to face the work by appreciating the work they’ve already completed.
Stage 5. Start inviting them to events to meet in person and socialize or have fun or hang out. Start feeding them some sense of a life as a normal person. No longer treat them as some kind of special case, but still check in frequently and offer and give help and support, just do so without this “I’m a care taker and you’re disabled” approach. It’s more a “we’re equals, and I’m gonna help you” attitude now.
Stage 6. Continue Stage 5 for another 6-12 months. Be extra sensitive and don’t start treating them normally until many months after they start appearing to be normal. They will be acting normal, but inside they are still weak. So if you criticize them like you would criticize someone who hasn’t just come through trauma, you will re-injure them and make their condition worse. Just like if you’ve just had surgery, you’re going to “recover” in a few days/weeks, but you won’t REALLY recover for many months. Emotional recovery is the same. Sure the scar has healed and the stitches are gone, but re-injury is going to be very easy and that wound is very weak so don’t disturb it again for some time. Give it time to be strong once more.