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Friday, December 01, 2023

How to be an ally for those battling hidden illnesses

There is more to someone than can be seen. Physical conditions are noticeable, but what about those that are invisible? Mental illnesses are just as real and should always be treated as such. 

There are two types of stigmas regarding mental illness: how others perceive those with a mental health condition and the internal personal shame for having one. It is imperative that these are squashed — here’s how we can make steps in that direction.

Providing emotional support

One of the most impactful things anyone can provide for someone battling a mental obstacle is emotional support. Sometimes they aren’t looking for help, they’re just looking for someone to be there — someone to just listen. 

It’s important not to push someone into talking about something they don’t want to talk about or are not fully ready to, even if they communicate that they’d like you to know. Being there for wherever they are and saying “I hear you” will go a long way.

When they bring up a concern or obstacle of theirs, they aren’t always looking for advice on how to combat it. They could just be looking for acknowledgement that what they are going through is valid. Offer encouragement. Even if you can’t always be there physically, communicate that you are in their corner, you are someone they can rely on even when they can’t see you. 

Trying to understand even if you fully can’t 

It’s okay to not fully understand what someone is going through. You may not have experienced what they are going through, or even if you have, everyone has different circumstances so it can make it hard to fully relate.

Exhibit efforts that show that you are trying to understand, regardless of if you do or don’t, you are always there for them. 

Approaching someone with concerns regarding their mental health

Waiting for someone you believe is struggling to seek you out can be dangerous. It’s okay to approach someone with care for their wellbeing. It’s a hard conversation to have, and you have to be ready to show empathy and care instead of judgement. 

The most important part of this process it to express your genuine feelings. They need to be comforted in your concern, not weary by it. This can be aided by not speaking at them, but with them. 

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Make this conversation a non-intimidating process. When asking questions, make them open ended so they can take the answer where they want to. Directed questions can feel like an interrogation and seem accusatory. No assumptions should be made; let them identify themselves and express their emotions and thoughts the way they want. 

Be transparent in your feelings and care, but let them take the reigns and take it at their pace. They may not be ready to talk about the subject so just show you are a stable connection want the best for them.

Direct conversation is not always needed to show support 

You can be an ally for those suffering from mental illnesses as a whole, not just those who are close to you. Outwardly showing you stand with those who are battling mental obstacles is a prominent way to end the stigma and provide everyday comfort for those trying to live their best in the circumstances they are in. 

A prime example of this on campus is UW Madison’s chapter affiliation with the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ “The Bandana Project.” They provide green bandanas to tie on backpacks, showing this is someone one can approach. 

The bandanas are a symbol of support, a small reminder that those suffering from mental illnesses are not alone. You can learn more about “The Bandana Project” here.

With all of this being said, everyone should be there for each other. Everyone should be aware there are disabilities we cannot see. When attention and care is given to those experiencing hidden ailments it may make their battle a little easier to fight. 

These strong individuals are constantly battling internally already. Let’s fight alongside them by fighting stigma and encouraging and supporting them in the way they need.

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