It’s said that one in four people in the UK experience mental health issues every year. That means that three in four people don’t. So can these three people empathise with the struggles, pain and other symptoms that the one person feels?
With such a high number of people experiencing mental health issues on a daily basis, even more people (such as family, friends or colleagues) witness first-hand how they cope and struggle with mental health. But is that experience enough to know how that person is actually feeling?
“Having somebody say “I know exactly what you need!” isn’t helpful to that person, because quite simply you don’t know.”
You learn the ways of those struggling; what calms them, what triggers them. You learn what they need. But when it comes to advice, if you have no personal experience then how can the person struggling actually believe and take on-board that advice? Having somebody say “I know exactly what you need!” isn’t helpful to that person, because quite simply you don’t know. Whilst your advice comes from a genuine place of wanting to help it can be overwhelming and infuriating.
We understand a lot more about mental health these days, largely due to people being more open about their own mental health and helping to break down the taboo. We read different mental health related stories every day. And we all experience a range of emotions.
We all feel sad at times, so we can all empathise with being sad and we can give advice on how to ride through that feeling and come out the other side. But, depression is miles away from ‘sad’. So whilst you have a vague idea of empathy for a person struggling with depression, that empathy can maybe be felt for a minute or two. Full empathy needs 24/7 experience to have the real understanding.
Whilst empathy might not be achievable for everybody, it’s still important to educate yourself on mental health. That one in four number means it’s highly likely you know someone with mental health issues, whether they have confided in you or not. It’s important to know how to support someone in this situation as well as knowing you can’t help with everything and that is okay too.
Sympathy is different. You can certainly have sympathy for a person experiencing mental health issues. Whether this is helpful for that person is another issue entirely. In my own experience, I don’t want people to feel sorry for me because my brain is a bit broken.
I’m happy to have anyone listen to me when I want to talk, and they want to listen. And I’m happy to listen to what helps those who have similar struggles. But to get advice on what to do from those with no experience? I don’t feel too comfortable with that.
“You don’t have to understand someone’s feelings and you don’t have to fix their problems.”
You can help and support your loved ones without having to know exactly how they feel. I think for me personally too, I don’t want people to try understand why I feel the way I feel and I don’t want someone else interpreting how I feel to how they think I feel.
Mental health is so complex. Our brains are so complex. It’s important that we learn as much as we can, to know how to be supportive but also learn boundaries. You don’t have to understand someone’s feelings and you don’t have to fix their problems. Usually just being there is enough.