Mental illness is a form of hidden disability. Individuals may be dealing with depression, PTSD, anxiety or panic disorder, or a number of other conditions that make it difficult to cope with additional stressors. When I’m working with an individual who is angry, demanding and, in general making it almost impossible for me to do my job, I try to keep in mind there may be a form of mental illness driving their behavior. It makes it easier for me to keep my equilibrium and not add to the problem by losing my patience and making things worse.
I care about what happens to other people. It’s important to me to provide what support I can to help those I come in contact with while they are on their journey. That’s part of who I am, and I don’t act this way because I’m such a paragon of virtue. I’m no Sister Theresa. Rather, I know any of us can, at some point in our lives, find ourselves stressed to the max, feeling cornered and overwhelmed. Having someone there to listen without judging us can make a tremendous difference. I try to be supportive of others so that when the time comes that I need some extra support, someone will be there for me.
People with mental illness and other hidden disabilities need our emotional support just the same as people with a physical illness or disability do. As a society, I believe we tend to show more mercy to the physically ill than the mentally ill.
Each of us has a story to tell – what’s happening in our lives and how it’s affecting us. It helps if I keep in mind that at any time I can find myself in the same position. It makes it easier for me to maintain a positive attitude and remain interested in what’s being said. It’s important to maintain a respectful attitude. Being rude, short-tempered and dismissive only makes the situation worse.
Remembering that I could be in the same circumstances as the person I’m working with grounds me so I’m able to see with eyes of compassion. Is the person I’m working with yelling, demanding, or criticizing? I can look at them and say to myself, “I’ve been there!” And the funny thing is, in most instances, having someone listen and validate their concerns is really all that’s needed. I don’t have to solve their problems, or fix the situation that’s causing them grief. I just need to hear what they’re saying and let them know I understand. It’s really not so much for me to do, but it can make all the difference in the world to that person.
Christine Wistrom is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.