health

The important lesson we all need to learn about mental health issues.

Watching your friend fade before your eyes is one of the most distressing experiences.

Watching a dear buddy fade away before your eyes is one of the more distressing experiences a person can have. Not knowing how to help someone who clearly needs you, it’s debilitating.

This darling girlfriend of mine – one of my closest soul buddies – was really struggling about a year ago. She wasn’t eating properly, she was sleep-deprived and she was perpetually busy. She was truly zombie-like, wandering around her own life as if it were someone else’s.

Just as an FYI, you should know that this post is sponsored by mindhealthconnect. But all opinions expressed by the author are 100 per cent authentic and written in their own words.

Professionally she was breezy, strong and totally together..

But she had this eerie superpower and that was the power to make people believe she was completely fine when she wanted them to. She had this impenetrable professional armour that she wore to work every day, like nothing could touch her and everything was just dandy. So, for a really long time, anyone who came into contact with her professionally just thought she was breezy, strong and totally together.

She could juggle the many conflicting aspects of her life so deftly; other women would look to her for advice on how to get their lives together. She was untouchable, which is why it was so damn hard to broach the subject of how unsustainable her life was.

Even around acquaintances, she was vibrant and excitable and sweet. In front of certain friends, it was like she couldn’t help but project this sparkly, perfect persona. Maybe I have a superpower too, and it’s seeing through all her put-on sparkle. Or, you know, maybe I became mildly obsessed with monitoring her moods and checking how much she was eating, sleeping and looking after herself.

It wasn’t really until she stayed with me for a couple of weeks that I truly began to see chinks in her armour. I noticed that she would leave the house with no breakfast, go to the gym at dinner time and sleep for a maximum of four hours a night. She would pace the living room wringing her hands rather than sit in front of the TV and zone out like I did. She was constantly checking her mobile, not letting it out of her hands or her sight for a minute.

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I knew it had to be anxiety, or depression, or extreme stress. I knew that if she continued living her life the way she was – strung out, breathless and lying to her inner sanctum of friends so we wouldn’t intervene – that she would end up having some sort of breakdown. I just knew it. What I didn’t know… was how to bring it up, or how to behave around her. Because ultimately I knew this whole act – the smooth, happy juggling act – was a coping mechanism. I didn’t want to be the one to distract her with confronting questions and cause her to drop all the balls she had in the air. That just didn’t seem fair.

My mini interventions: two coffees at our favourite place.

So I started to worry, incessantly. Do I gather her friends and her parents and her siblings into a room and have an intervention? Do I slip the business card of a psychiatrist into her wallet surreptitiously? The only option I couldn’t entertain was letting her go on like she was. So I staged what you might call a mini intervention. I took her out to brunch at our favourite place, ordered two coffees and gently coaxed her into eating something, and said those daunting but powerfully important words: “I’m worried about you.”

It was scary, confronting her like that over scrambled eggs and lattes but it was on our turf and in a non-threatening, delightful setting. She was more receptive than I’d expected too. She knew her life was unsustainable, she knew she was living on the adrenalin of being permanently anxious. I think she just needed someone else to say those words out loud for it to seem important.

The whole experience taught me one of the most important lessons of my life. When you think someone is suffering with a mental illness, speak up. Helping someone you love confront their own issues is too important. Don’t put it off because you feel awkward; book in an “I’m worried about you” brunch date.

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to live with a mental health issue, this cartoon is a great example:

There’s so much information about mental health online that it can be difficult to work out what you can trust. mindhealthconnect aggregates safe resources from leading Australian health organisations, allowing you to find tools and information to help you, or someone you know, take the first step to mental wellness.

Visit mindhealthconnect.org.au

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