Keep Your Glass Full - Supporting Within Our Means

Chelsey Zelizney from Bridges Health shares with us how we can better show up for our communities with our existing skills.

The numbers say it all.  We cannot ignore the prevalence of mental health concerns and illness in our communities.  It has been said that 1 in 5 individuals will experience a mental health problem each year.  If you were to ask me, I would say the data should be closer to 1 in 3. Why you may ask? Not every individual that is experiencing a mental health problem comes forward to someone about it.  There is a large list of reasons why someone may not disclose, but what do we do as a supporter when an individual does? How do we know how to support within our means? How do we know what our means are?  

The first thing that is important to recognize is the courage it takes for an individual to come to you and open up about what it is they are experiencing.  Where I always begin my conversation is by thanking them for sharing. You should feel honoured that this person felt trust in you to disclose. This is a huge deal.  However, this often isn’t the first thing we feel. Naturally, due to the toughness of the subject, we feel overwhelmed and wonder what to do next.

How do we know what to do next?  How can we learn the tools we need to feel “equipped” to support an individual through mental health problems? I always tell supporters that knowledge is power.  We need to invest some time into gaining the necessary knowledge, so we feel more confident when engaging in tough conversations. I would never expect someone to go into an exam about a certain topic and have a successful outcome if we know nothing about that topic.  One of the best ways to start that learning and becoming equipped with tools in our toolkit is by becoming certified in Mental Health First Aid. As a certified Mental Health First Aid instructor, I have consistently seen the benefit of attending this course. With many individuals in the agriculture industry living in rural areas, there is a lot of isolation which results in a challenge to accessing professional support services.  As a mental health first aider, you could be one of the first people that could assist someone until these professional services can be obtained. If it is not us directly who is experiencing a mental health problem, it could be a family member, a friend, friend of a friend, colleague, client, or even just a member of our community. Because of this, it is evident that we will cross paths sometime in our lives with someone who is experiencing a mental health concern.

When you become certified in Mental Health First Aid, it does not mean that now you must be the professional or take over any type of professional responsibilities.  In its simplest form it means that you can provide support and comfort to a person, while supporting within your means, until guiding that person to professional support.  This is where supporting within your means originates. When supporting an individual through mental health concerns, sometimes we forget about our own well-being. We sometimes forget that even that hour we gave to someone has left us tired or drained.  We often may not think of getting the necessary support we may need when supporting someone else. Before we know it, we are now experiencing our own mental health concerns and have developed a larger problem. You can’t drink from any empty cup- a great line I read, and I believe has so much truth.  We must stay true to supporting within our means so that our own cup does not run empty.

The next piece to supporting within your means is taking the time to sit down and reflect.  What are my limits when it comes to supporting someone, both personally and professionally? How do I know when I am reaching my tipping point and my own mental health is starting to be affected or compromised?  We then need to stay true to these boundaries we have put in place and know that there are professionals available and they are very much needed. Remember, they are the professionals and they exist for a reason.  

I personally think a huge piece to staying within our means is knowing that we are supporting individuals, but we cannot change them.  When an individual is experiencing mental health problems or illness, there are many tips we can use to help them along their journey, however, in the end that individual must decide when they are ready to move towards healing.  As caring human beings, we want that person to feel better and that leads us to feeling like we need to do whatever it takes. This is where we have to remember supporting within our means and that sometimes we won’t be able to just make it happen for them based on everything we think they should do.  

Some tips for supporting within your means:

1. Recognizing when there has been a change in someone away from what is their normal. You may be one of the first people to recognize this change and could be the first person to start support.

Tip: Educate yourself on mental health concerns and problems like depression, anxiety, and suicide and their signs and symptoms.  Register yourself for a Mental Health First Aid course.

2. Help the individual struggling with finding professional support.

Tip: Research what professional services are available in your community.  Help them make first appointments or to have a conversation with their family doctor.  

3. Promote the recovery of good mental health.

Tip: Provide hope and optimism to the individual experiencing mental health concerns or illness to help them realize it doesn’t have to continue to be this way.  There is another side to their suffering, and it can get better. Encourage proper nutrition and sleeping habits and living a healthy lifestyle.

4. Listen with empathy.

Tip:  It is okay to not have the exact right words or to be unsure of even what to say at all.  One of the best ways you can support within your means is by just listening while removing all judgment.  Show that individual empathy towards the emotions they are experiencing and remind them they are not to be blamed for their illness.   

5. Allow yourself permission to access support.

Tip:  Supporting an individual through a mental health concern can be challenging and taxing on our own well-being.  Who do we have as support that we can talk to, so that we can release some of the tough emotions? This can be someone both personally and/ or professionally.  If we would want those close to us to reach out for support, we have to allow ourselves the same permission.

Lastly, I want to leave you with some dialogue as to how you could start a conversation while supporting within your means. I often say something along these lines.  “I am so thankful that you would feel as though you could come to me and share what it is you are going through. I absolutely want to be here to support you through this and I will walk beside you in this journey, however, I know we can get you connected with a professional who is an expert in their field and can support you even better than I can”.  From there suggesting some professional resources they could reach out to and you could assist them with. You are there as a support and are guiding them to even more support, which will allow you to support within your means, keep your cup full, and feeling confident that you did what you could.

Chelsey Zelizney, RSW, BSW, BA

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