Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Mental health needs support, awareness and empathy

I met with a friend this week who has bipolar disorder.

She asked if I would help her send a message to people about her challenges. She shared details about her manic episodes and bouts with depression. As we spoke, she said she was in a good place, her medication maintaining a balance.

But for some time, she has endured highs and lows. She talked about taking to the streets and waking up neighbors in the middle of the night during a manic high. She spoke of lying on the couch for days, unwilling to even shower during one of her lows.

"It's like riding a roller coaster," she said. "I try to laugh because laughter is the best medicine.

"But someone once said, 'Laughter is the best medicine unless there's no reason to be laughing. Then take your medicine.' "

She talked about the disorder's impact on her, her family and her friendships. Above all, she expressed a need for empathy: People should understand she has an illness, and some of them have disappointed her because they haven't offered that degree of understanding.

I responded by saying we — and I really meant "we" — don't understand how to respond. We don't like talking about it, we don't try to learn about it and we worry that trying to deal with it will lead to unintended consequences.

Clearly, mental health needs an infusion of awareness.

Dr. Mark Taylor, a Brandon psychiatrist, said people need to realize that if someone who is bipolar takes their medication, it really doesn't have to be an issue at all.

"If people became more informed, it would help a lot," Taylor said. "People have an idea that someone who is bipolar may look like they're possessed by a demon, but the reality is if you're out in public, you're probably surrounded by people who have this diagnosis and you just don't know it."

On its website, the National Institute of Mental Health suggests the following for people dealing with those who have bipolar disorder: Offer emotional support, understanding, patience and encouragement. (Don't we all need that?) Learn about bipolar disorder so you can understand what your friend is experiencing. Talk to them and listen carefully. Invite them out for positive distractions. Remind them that they can get better.

Given what my friend shared, I would add two more tips: Listen without judgment and don't diagnose. She's bothered when people roll their eyes or stare in silence, or suggest that because of a singular action she forgot take her medicine or she's being "bipolar again."

"People may feel someone is not trying hard enough, but it's biochemical, it's genetic," Taylor said. "People need therapy and support, but they also need medicine. You can't talk it away."

And my friend explained that it frustrates her when people with no medical training offer advice on how to get better by saying "snap out of it" or "trust God."

"I heard a comedian say it's like telling a person with vision problems, 'Take off your glasses, put it in God's hands and drive home,' " she said. "They say, 'Snap out of it,' like it's that easy."

Every affliction comes with challenges, but the stigma attached to mental health makes it all the more difficult.

As a society, we need to grow more cognizant about how mental health is impacting the community. It's no surprise that a group of mental health agencies will stage a political forum next week to raise awareness among candidates.

As friends and family members, we need to search for the courage to be more empathetic. It's not easy to identify with an illness that doesn't always exhibit visible symptoms. It's deceiving because for so long we've been told happiness is a choice.

But if we can find the courage to help, why not try? Everybody needs a friend.

That's all I'm saying.

. If you go

Mental Health Political Forum

A political forum on mental health and substance abuse will be held at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday at Drug Abuse Comprehensive Coordinating Office's main campus, 4422 E Columbus Drive. The public is invited to hear candidates speak on the issues. RSVP to info@dacco.org or call (813) 384-4214.

Mental health needs support, awareness and empathy 08/07/14 [Last modified: Thursday, August 7, 2014 10:29am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Duke Energy Florida president answers questions about utility's response to Irma

    Hurricanes

    ST. PETERSBURG — After more than a week since Hurricane Irma knocked out power to millions of Floridians, Duke Energy announced it will finish its restoration efforts Tuesday.

    Duke Energy Florida President Harry Sideris greets St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman on Tuesday at a news conference where both spoke about Hurricane Irma recovery. The event was held at a Florida Department of Transportation lot next to Maximo Park in St. Petersburg, where the city is collecting Irma yard debris which will be mulched and sold to a local tomato farmer. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  2. Leaves, mountains, ice cream and cheese: What's not to like in Burlington, Vt.?

    Travel

    If I loved Burlington, Vt., during a visit with my daughter when the high was 37 degrees, I feel completely comfortable recommending the city as a great destination for fall, when it's considered one of the top leaf-watching spots in the world.

    Founded in 1791, the University of Vermont is the sixth-oldest college established in New England.
  3. Puerto Ricans in Tampa Bay wait with dread as Hurricane Maria approaches island

    Hurricanes

    TAMPA — As Hurricane Maria swirled in the Atlantic Ocean, Sarykarmen Rivera got a phone call from her parents in Puerto Rico. They had an ominous message.

    Sarykarmen Rivera sits for a portrait with a picture of herself and her family in her hometown of Guayama, Puerto Rico, while at the Univision studios in Tampa on Tuesday. Rivera's mother, father, and extended family are currently in Puerto Rico and she worries about their safety as Hurricane Maria approaches. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  4. Early estimates peg Hurricane Irma damage at as much as $65B

    Banking

    The damage totals from Hurricane Irma are still being tallied, but early numbers are in: As of Tuesday, the storm is estimated to have caused between $42.5 billion and $65 billion of damage. That's according to a Tuesday release by Irvine, Calif.-based analytics company CoreLogic.

    Hurricane Irma is estimated to have caused up to $65 billion in damage, said analytics company CoreLogic. Pictured is 
Hermilo Munoz Castillo as wades down a flooded street to check on his home in southern Collier County, Fla. after Hurricane Irma passed. | [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
  5. Port Tampa Bay makes public/private commitment for $60 million expansion project

    Business

    TAMPA — Port Tampa Bay approved a public-private partnership agreement with four other entities to divvy up who will pay for a $60 million widening and extension of the Big Bend Channel.

    Port Tampa Bay approved a participation agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Florida Department of Transportation, Tampa Electric Company and Mosaic Company at the port's monthly board meeting on  Tuesday. Port Tampa Bay President & CEO Paul Anderson signs the agreement as Ram Kancharla; Port Tampa Bay's vice president of planning & development, Brandon Burch; project manager at United States Army Corps of Engineers, Lois Moore; of Alcalde and Fay and Charles Klug; Port Tampa Bay principal counsel, and Tim Murphy; deputy district engineer of the Army Corps., looks on. [Company handout]