When we are ill, what do we need from our friends?

My good FB friend, Sal asked me to do a post about what mentally ill people need from our friends when we are in our ill phases.

A very good subject and I will discuss it as sincerely as I can.

Sal pointed out that when someone is in the hospital for a physical illness, people visit, they send flowers, it’s generally acknowledged that this person is ill. There is no “Hush, hush, don’t tell anyone about this” going on. In my experience, except for my very devoted boyfriend (now my husband) and my family, no one came to visit me in the hospital. My aunts sent me flowers the first time I was hospitalized. It certainly wasn’t as it would have been if I’d gone in for an appendectomy, many of my friends may have visited, many more would have called, and a few may even have sent flowers, chocolates…

Lets ask why it is that things are different in the case of a mental illness. Why? Well if you’re getting an appendectomy, your personality doesn’t really change, you may be grouchy and a bit frightened, but you are still you. When you are in some phases of bipolar d/o or many times in schizophrenia, you might be the queen of the Amazon, you might also have the cure to cancer and have evil people trying to kill you to get your cancer cure and take credit for it. In short, your personality does change, and the things you say don’t make sense, that makes your friends and others uncomfortable. I understand. If someone I know is very drunk and incoherent, making no sense at all, I cannot speak to them. I know they are making no sense, I know there brain on alcohol is not functioning properly, I know that the next day they won’t have any recollection of this strange and weird interaction with me. So I just walk away, unless they need help, then I try and help them.

So, perhaps, like a drunk person whom I don’t take seriously, my friends, and even my family, don’t really know what to do with me when I am in a severe manic phase and witches from Eastern Europe are trying to destroy my heart with black magic…

In this case, the only thing that helps is to go see my doctor, and increase medication doses so my brain pulls out of mania. Twice in my life the mania was so severe that I was out of touch with reality and I had to be hospitalized, and needed to say in the hospital (30 days, first time and 10 days second time) to get back down to earth and be and function normally.

So friends if you notice your good friend acting erratically, being overly emotional, talking about fantasies as if they were absolutely real, please encourage them to call their doctor. It is at this point that they have lost their insight and have no idea they are not in touch with reality. So, noticing this, as a friend, if you suggest to your ill friend that they call the doctor, this may be just the thing they need. Perhaps even call their doctor on their behalf (don’t know if this will work with all the privacy laws, but try anyway.) What your friend needs now is love, sweet love, yes to be sure, but also medical treatment, perhaps hospitalization to get better.

If your friend is in the hospital (psychiatric unit,) visiting them in visiting hours, and flowers, little gifts would be very welcome, just as with anyone in the hospital.

I know when depression strikes me, I become overly emotional, all dark emotions, thinking I am unworthy, unlovable, useless… If my friends tell me that I am wrong in my thinking, if they point out all the wonderful things I’ve done, all the great ways I am… that all helps, for a while, but depression is relentless, and it will steal your soul. So once again, support, love, understanding (to a degree) is very valuable to the depressed person, but the most important thing is to get them to contact their doctor. The depressed person needs medical intervention, a change in their medicines, or doses.

Just like you cannot cure diabetes with love and affection and understanding and support, you cannot make a person who is in a severe phase of bipolar d/o better with love, affection, and understanding and support.

Please don’t misunderstand me, love, affection, understanding, and support are all extremely valuable and very desirable things when someone is ill, physically or mentally. Since understanding is often times lacking about mental illness, since it is difficult to know what is going on in the heads of friends who have a mental illness, patience is also a great virtue. If you try to help someone, and because of their state of mind at the time, they cannot accept your help, be patient, and you never know, the next time you try to help them, they may be very open to and grateful for your help.

So of course love, understanding, acceptance, affection, support, compassion, and most of all patience, are all needed in dealing with friends who are in varying degrees of phases of a mental illness.  Compassion is big, the ability to feel or at least try to feel what your ill friend is feeling, walking in their shoes so to speak, will give our friends insight into what the mentally ill person is experiencing. And compassion is not pity, we don’t want your pity, we do and surely could use your compassion!  And of course, also encouraging them to contact their doctor is of paramount importance.

One last thing is don’t get involved with their delusions, for example when I thought the witch was trying to destroy my heart with black magic, and I told you this, do not become a part of the delusion by telling me you will help me fight the witch. But arguing with me in that phase would have been useless, perhaps empathetically discussing my delusional beliefs would be the thing to do. Saying something like “I understand how frightening this may be, (bait and switch hahaha) how about you give your doctor a call and see if he can help…”

The thing with me was that even in the full blown manic phase, I cycled through mania/normal/depressed phases 3-4 times a day. And when I was in my normal phase, I would say to myself and my family “It’s happening again, I’m going out of touch with reality again!” So I knew, for parts of the day that it was happening again and that both times, I needed to be hospitalized. So in my normal phase, I actually would have agreed with you and indeed would have called my doctor, and I did call my doctor and tell them what was happening and asked for hospitalization, especially the 2nd time.

I hope this helps.

Love and hugs to all my family/friends/readers.




12 thoughts on “When we are ill, what do we need from our friends?

  1. These are all great points. Everything starts with communication though and a willingness to be open and honest.

    For example, in addition to her mental health challenges, my wife is a recovering alcoholic. She had a friends that will invite her out to drink, which bothers my wife. However until she has that honest conversation with her friend, then it won’t get better and she won’t get the support she needs.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A very well written and thoughtful post. I have just recently opened up to most of my family about my problems with major depression and psychosis. They knew in the past that had been treated for depression but I never told them how severe it was because I didn’t want them to worry. The psychosis I never told them about. I didn’t even tell the doctors treating me for depression about it. I was fully invested in the stigma and shame of mental illness and I didn’t want anyone to think I was crazy. I was never hospitalized, but only because I refused when any doctor advised me to. Both conditions got much worse about a year ago, so I found a new doctor and committed to myself to be completely honest. As part of that, I finally told some of my family about it even though I was scared of how they would react. My older sister who lives nearby was completely at ease with it when I told her. I explained to her my fears about having anyone know what was going on inside my head. My sister had just recently found out that she has diabetes. She told me, “It’s no big deal. It’s the same as me with my diabetes, I didn’t want it, I don’t like it, and it makes some things difficult for me. All I can do is go to the doctor and follow their instructions and deal with it the best I can. You have a different problem, but it doesn’t change who you are, it is just the problem you have to deal with.”

    My younger brother visited from out of state several months ago and he had heard from my sister about my illness. When we were visiting he asked some questions about the illness and about my treatment. After a long discussion he concluded by telling me, “This is where people want to say they understand how you feel, but we both know that I don’t understand how you feel and nobody that hasn’t been in your situation understands how you feel. So I will just say that your still the same person to me that you were before I know about this, and I hope the treatment helps. If you ever need to talk about it you know you can call me anytime.”

    Made me wish I had told them a long time ago. My family is the best.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love your comment and how understanding and supportive your sister and brother are. I am glad you got beyond the stigma and shame, it really is just like any other disease, except it affects the brain, which is the MOST complicated organ in our bodies, so of course, the symptoms are complicated. Keep going to your doctor and following their advice. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. Please keep visiting here and commenting.


  3. Beautifully insightful post. During my hospital stays, I have rarely gotten visitors. I would urge family and friends to visit or send a small token to let us know we have not been forgotten. Hospital is not a great place to be, and made even more lonely when you receive no visitors. This impacts the already low self-esteem and feeling as if you’ve let everyone down. I know from my experiences, I feel forgotten about, that no one loves me, that I’m a burden, and it all worsens the depression. There is nothing quite like the anticipation of other patients getting ready to receiving visitors. And then me, watching the clock, watching the parking lot, watching the door, also in anticipation. And then the crushing shame and sadness when no one comes

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sorry that you had no visitors. Since you said you would urge people to visit, maybe you can tell your close friends and family to come just in case you are in the hospital again? I actually felt OK in the hospital because there was no pressure for me to do anything but get better. I did have a few visitors. I understand how you feel though, mental illness and stigma make us feel ashamed to be sick anyway. Hugs for you. Xxoo

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Honesty can sometimes be so refreshing and liberating! What I love about your post is the simplicity with which you’ve stated things and I think your words will help many who are going through this or some form of this disorder. It’s true, it’s just like any other disorder/ disease so why the shame? Why hide it? Why sugar coat it? The more open we are, the better we can help each other.
    Judgment was never ours to make to begin with.

    Keep up the good work!

    Liked by 1 person

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