With the untimely and rather shocking demise of Sushant Singh Rajput, I can see a tremendous spike in the number of posts about the importance of taking care of mental health, offering help to those who might need it and bringing down the stigma attached to mental health disorders. In fact, for a while now I have been seeing “Copy and Paste” posts about how people are ready to lend an ear to those who wish to talk about things bothering them, how they are ready to help them so that they do not take the drastic step of ending their lives etc. While I am glad indeed that people are doing their bit to spread the word and create awareness, it has often worried me that it is a “One size fits all” approach that has taken over and while they think they are helping, they could in fact be making it worse with this oversimplified approach to understanding and helping people with mental health issues.
As a person who has battled Clinical Depression and Anxiety, taken professional help and recovered, and still doesn’t take it for granted, I would really like you to understand where you might be wrong in offering the wrong kind of help. I had once before written a long post about my own fight with depression and the “Do Nots” of dealing with someone going through it and some points are repeated here. This is more about why “someone to listen” is not the important thing, but “the right person to listen in the right way” is. It is simply an assumption you make that no one listens to someone who is depressed and all they need is to vent out and have someone to talk to. But sometimes they might have a lot of people who are listening, without actually needing a random new person joining in, but not a single person gets it the way it is supposed to be.
1) Most often the immediate question that comes up when you hear that someone suffers from depression is – “Why?” You need to understand that there need not be any reason, any reason at all, for it sometimes. Sometimes there is. But you as a total outsider or sometimes even as an insider, even with the best interests at heart, would have no clue on how to understand that when you offer to help. And no matter how much you try to resist the temptation, you will end up asking that question, only to not really understand anything because someone else’s struggles need not make any sense to you. It could actually sound quite trivial from an outsider’s perspective although it could mean life or death for the one going through it. It will put you and the other person in a very awkward position.
2) There is a universal human tendency to assume that when you listen to a problem, you need to help with a solution to that in the form of advice, suggestions etc that you feel is the best course based on your knowledge, your assumptions, your understanding. The ability to stay compassionate, but completely detached devoid of emotional involvement is not something ordinary human beings have. It takes a thorough professional to do that. While you think you are giving practical solutions which can and should be applied, you might be pushing the other person to the edge of misery because what you suggest might be something he/she is incapable of doing or have the wrong effect on the person. The guilt and the feeling of being a failure for not being able to do even those seemingly simple things are enough to make a person decide enough is enough. The most common examples of such ‘simple’ solutions that people just throw about only because they have heard everyone talk about it or because it has worked for them are “Practice meditation”, “Go out and meet people”, “Sweat it out”, “It’s only in your head, you don’t need doctors or medicines”. What works for you wouldn’t always work for someone else.
3) You don’t understand the enormous responsibility and onus that comes with saying “I’m here, talk to me”. I specifically mean, when you send out that offer to anyone who sees your post, people you do not even know and do not have any real connect to, not just your dear and near ones. I have personally been the single source of support to a couple of my friends who were battling extreme depression, and trust me, the emotional toll it takes on you is huge. At some point I had to pull myself back a little because having them become too dependent on me was not for their or my good. I knew how it was draining me out and putting me at more risk of having a breakdown myself. And even more, I was getting worried about how they would cope if I couldn’t handle it anymore to the extent I was doing and they had to deal with it with lesser amount of time from me. It might look selfish to you, but that is the reality. Just like staying by a bedridden person’s bedside all day, every day can take a huge toll on you, being emotionally involved too much and having to be there physically or virtually all the time and being worried of what they might do if you are not there can crumble you down completely. Sometimes it could be as simple as you ending up not wanting to have anything to do with that person for major personality differences that get on your nerves, which is quite understandable too. A lot of people might say these big words of always being there to listen, anytime, anywhere, even to mere acquaintances, and when they realize that it is not what they thought it would be, just walk away. That can be even more disastrous for the other person.
If everyone starts assuming the role of a psychiatrist or a therapist, it is only going to make things worse. Helping is being that person who can talk to them about the benefits of meeting a professional who is equipped to handle such things and not taking up that role yourselves, giving them the right guidance to finding a proper professional with good reputation and reviews. Try that instead the next time you come across these “Copy and Paste” posts, which while being well-meaning, are also pretty empty in practicality.