Supporting Others, Supporting Yourself
Over the past month or so while I was giving the AMS services Anti-Oppression training, I also included mental health discussions with many of them. When asked how they would support people, most of them hit the ones you would expect immediately: actively listening, knowing resources, not making assumptions etc. However, there is one point which I threw in every time which I would like to discuss a bit further. It is something that is extremely important in my mind: when you are giving support you need to ensure that you are receiving support as well. I realize this may sound obvious and simple, however in my mind it is such a key component and can come in many forms.
First of all, I have had many students come to me with friends who are dealing with a mental health issue, or perhaps the loss of a loved one and are unsure as to how to help their friend, which leads them to feeling helpless themselves. It is completely okay to not know what to do. It’s important to remember that it is okay to call or visit resources like the ones listed at myAMS.org/mentalhealth in order to ask advice on how to help your friend/partner/co-worker/ family member etc. You don’t have to immediately have the answers, and explaining the situation (confidentially, in most cases) to someone else who works in mental health services may be extremely helpful and can guide you in what types of things to say and do for whomever you are supporting. It may also give you the chance to deal with how you are feeling about the whole thing, which gets to my second point: How you are feeling is extremely important too.
I get it. When you are supporting someone, you want to ensure that everything with them is okay and its really easy to forget about yourself. You don’t want to be selfish and the situation is not about you. However you are still a person with emotions, stress, class, assignments and probably a lot more. These things don’t simply cease to exists, even if you a prioritizing them a bit differently. Recognize that you are important too and that your feelings are probably being largely affected. You are supporting someone you care about, possibly even love, while go through something, be it a loss or a mental health concern. That’s not easy. And this is not to dissuade anything from talking to their friends when they are dealing with something, that is NOT what I mean. It is so important that we all do. However, no one can support anyone unless they feel supported. When you are helping someone, it’s okay to hurt too and need to talk to a professional either to seek advice or support.
If you are unsure as to how to support someone, you are not alone, and it does not make you a bad person or a bad friend. If you feel you want to learn to support someone or seek advice, I urge you to check out the resources I linked to above.
Please stop by the SIC to chat anytime,
Social Issues Commissioner (2011-12)