How Can I Tell If A Person Has A Mental Health Problem?
How Can I Tell If A Person Has A Mental Health Problem?
Dear Tacit,

How can I tell if someone has a mental health problem?

Signed: Wanting To Know

Dear Wanting To Know,

One of the most common answers I give to this question (it is a great question by the way – it gets asked a lot!) is this:  The next time you are in a room with a bunch of friends, or in a line up at a store, or sitting in the audience at an event, look to your left – then look to your right – now look down at yourself.  Pause and realize that at least one of the three people you just looked at has been struggling with a mental health issue.  If it’s not you, you can bet it’s one of the others.

Research conducted by the Canadian Mental Health Association tells us that 1 in 3 people will struggle with a mental health issue during the course of their lifetime.  Other reputable organizations have reported the numbers to be 1 in 4 Canadians; and some have quoted the numbers as high as 1 in 2 who will struggle with mental health issues by the age of 40.  Self-reporting statistical data is often quite inaccurate because it relies on people being willing to share their own very personal and sometimes very private experiences.  Those who study these reports tell us that the actual occurrences of mental health issues in society is much higher than the numbers reveal, largely due to the stigma attached and/or because of a person’s belief that “this is how everyone feels” (not realizing that their own experience is related to a mental health challenge).  So, I feel confident in saying that every single human being will have occasion to deal with some form of mental health problem – either their own, or one that a loved one is facing – on multiple occasions throughout their lives.  And with that kind of awareness in mind, the best approach to knowing if someone is dealing with a mental health struggle at this moment is usually to assume that they likely are, and proceed from there.

To answer your question a bit more directly – you cannot tell who might be struggling with a mental health burden just by looking at them.  People who cope with mental health issues typically do a fantastic job of hiding what they are going through.  They function successfully in life – have jobs, raise kids, find partners, and stay busy with the every day tasks that consume us all.  They may appear happy, organized and well put together (even more so than someone with no MH issue may seem).  You might not ever “know” anything is wrong – sometimes, people feel the need to hide the truth from even their closest friends/family.

But behind the scenes, the battles these individuals wage are immense; the exhaustion is enormous; and the constant self doubt and struggles are very real.  Actually, as I type this, it sounds like I am describing just about any of us, at times, doesn’t it?!  Mental health issues sometimes come and go (days, weeks or months at a time) – and sometimes they settle in for the duration.  Regardless, when they make themselves known in our lives, the only option any of us has is to hunker down and try to manage the hiccups they bring with them.  When you wonder if someone is trying to manage a mental health problem, assume the need for compassion, support and a little understanding – instead of thinking the person is being rude, self absorbed or anti-social.  A person who is dealing with a mental health issue needs to be included in activities (even if they regularly decline the offer).  They need to feel connected and wanted, even if they cannot contribute/participate like they have previously.  A great way to measure your response to someone who you think might be needing your support is to imagine the person just had a baby, or open-heart surgery, or broke their leg.  What would you do to lend a hand – to show you understand the new challenges that have been thrust upon their world, and that you care?  Do that, and I guarantee you will be helping!  (I realize that wasn’t part of your question – but I thought I would mention it anyway)!

Take care!

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