Supporting Others During Times of Mental Strain: An Introvert’s Perspective
You likely do not know me. Perhaps you’ve heard my name or skimmed over my bio on our website, but it’s probable you’ve never met me. Working from home on behind-the-scene tasks and special projects, I rarely interact with our clients, community members, and organizational friends. And this is the way I like it. It’s not that I don’t like people, I do, but while other members of our team feel empowered and energized by interactions with others, I find it mentally taxing. I am the epitome of an introvert. Because of this, a two-month quarantine at home with my husband and kids seemed like a dream come true. Having my partner in crime around all day to wrangle our boys, help with household chores, and provide adult conversation felt like the greatest gift I could receive.
Unfortunately, this was not a gift that kept on giving for everyone. You see, my husband could not be more opposite than me on the social spectrum—he is as extroverted as they come. Having been married a handful of years, I already understood this about him, or so I thought. If this time home together has taught me anything, it’s that I never truly comprehended the extent of the interaction he not only craves, but requires from others for his own mental health. Without his daily conversations and collaboration with coworkers and friends, he was suffering greatly. However, this was not immediately apparent to me. He put on a good face for our family for weeks until he finally opened up and explained how he was really feeling and the thoughts and emotions he was trying to work through.
Thinking back on that conversation, I began to consider all of the other people in my life—the people I didn’t talk with on a daily basis. Were they also struggling in their imposed “captivity”? Putting on a brave face for the sake of others? What was actually going on in their minds? Were they scared? Worried? Nervous? Depressed? Then I realized simply wondering these questions to myself wasn’t doing anything. I wasn’t helping anyone’s mental or emotional health by speculating about their feelings. I needed to act, but what actions should I take? How could I truly connect with and support others when I couldn’t be with them?
Coming at what could not have been a better time, before we all knew it, it was May- Mental Health Month. A month filled with awareness information, suggestions and tips for improving mental health, and perhaps most important, encouragement for those suffering from mental health issues to seek appropriate support. It was through these resources that I found the answers I was searching for.
Mental Health America has provided a variety of “Tools2Thrive,” including advice for connecting with and supporting others. For some, these may be obvious, but coming from someone who often struggles to make meaningful connections with others, I hope you find them as helpful as I have.
First, make time to be social. Set aside a designated time to reach out to someone. Write a letter, make a phone call, send a quick text, schedule a video chat. Even though the strongest relationships are created through face-to-face interaction, these kinds of interactions remain beneficial when we cannot be together.
When talking with someone, practice active listening. Do more than just hear what someone is saying. Ask follow-up, open-ended questions to better understand what they are saying, and throughout a conversation, take moments to paraphrase what you’ve been told to be sure you are correctly comprehending what is being said.
Be sure to ask what you can do. You may think you know what someone wants or needs, but take it from my personal experience, it’s better to ask than to assume. If you receive a response of “thanks, I’m good,” take the time to offer a few suggestions without being too pushy. Then, be sure to keep your word and do whatever you have offered.
For those of you who are doing “well,” take a moment to reach out to someone else. Like myself, you may not realize who is having a difficult time right now or to what extent. And if you are someone who is currently struggling, please know you are not alone. “While 1 in 5 people will experience a diagnosable mental health condition in their lives, 5 out of 5 people will go through a challenging time that affects their mental health.”1 Do not be afraid to ask for help.
For more resources:
1. Mental Health America: Supporting Others
2. National Alliance on Mental Health: Mental Health Month
Bekah Finch, Detail Specialist at ULEAD