Peer Support in Mental Illness

This past week I had the opportunity to visit a friend in the psych hospital. She is in the process of accepting her new diagnosis of bipolar disorder type 1. My diagnosis. While I knew something was going on with her before, it is certainly best that she is in the hospital, receiving the care she needs. As her friend, and as someone who is living with the disorder, and someone educated in mental health, I want to do whatever I can to be there for her, and help her through this complicated time. This brings me to an important topic- peer support.

Peer support for those with a mental illness is so essential in acquiring mental wellness. Associating with peers who understand and can relate to what you are going through can help to form a bond. Having a support system of friends who also live with a mental illness, and who can relate is helpful in a different way from those who do not. Either way, there are things peers can do to help ease the burden of treatment and every day struggles.

Taken from the DBSA website:

What You Can Say That Helps

  • You are not alone in this. I’m here for you.
  • I understand you have a real illness and that’s what causes these thoughts and feelings.
  • You may not believe it now, but the way you’re feeling will change.
  • I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.
  • When you want to give up, tell yourself you will hold on for just one more day, hour, minute—whatever you can manage.
  • You are important to me. Your life is important to me.
  • Tell me what I can do now to help you.
  • I am here for you. We will get through this together.

What You Should Avoid Saying

  • It’s all in your head.
  • We all go through times like this.
  • You’ll be fine. Stop worrying.
  • Look on the bright side.
  • You have so much to live for; why do you want to die?
  • I can’t do anything about your situation.
  • Just snap out of it.
  • Stop acting crazy.
  • What’s wrong with you?
  • Shouldn’t you be better by now?

Peer support groups are also really helpful. I attend the DBSA peer support groups twice a month and I appreciate the freedom and safety of being able to openly express myself. I can share whatever I’m feeling, if I’m having an episode, and any difficulties I’m going through. The meetings are confidential and exclusive to those with bipolar disorder or depression, and their loved ones. I will be encouraging my friend to participate in groups as well, once she is discharged from the hospital.

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