When it comes to supporting loved ones who are struggling with their mental health, there's no 'one size fits all' approach.
For my parents, it was recognising that I was becoming sad and despondent in the early years of primary school. It was proactively fostering an environment in which I felt comfortable opening up about the daily struggles I was facing; making sure I understood that crying and expressing sadness weren't signs of weakness, but strength. When I did open up, it was my parents taking those struggles seriously and seeking out professional help.
It was the years of trial and error; getting second and third opinions. It was putting me on the necessary medications while simultaneously nurturing the early signs of a creative flare; spotting and celebrating the little moments of joy in among the darkness. It was moving me to a new school when the bullying got so unbearable that, at 13-years-old, I used my savings to order pepper spray from the US.
It was knowing when enough was enough.
These days, for me, it can be as simple as sending a text message; checking in with friends I know are going through a rough patch. It's reminding myself every day to speak openly about my own struggles, understanding fully that each honest conversation assists in disassembling a long-enforced barrier of stigma. It's doing my best to understand the benefits and shortcomings of our mental healthcare system, so that I'm able to properly utilise it for myself and help others do the same - while fighting for improvements when and where possible.
It's remembering that recovering from and living with mental illness isn't linear. Despite the popular analogy, being mentally ill is not at all like having a broken arm. There's no trajectory of healing. Instead, wellness comes in jagged installments, swelling, cresting and breaking out of order. It's the least fun kind of tango dance - sometimes two steps forward, one step back; other times, one step forward, two steps back.
Sometimes, it's resisting the gut-clenching urge to gain control over the situation.
Watching a loved one suffer is always shitty. Instinctively, we feel compelled to grab them by the shoulders and use our magical to-the-moon-and-back love to make everything okay again. But, in my experience, it can often be more helpful to sit comfortably in a shared silence; giving your loved one every possible opportunity to express themselves safely and without judgement.
To re-purpose one of my favourite lines from The Sound of Music classic How do you solve a problem like Maria?, trying to 'fix' a loved one's mental illness can feel a lot like trying to catch a cloud and pin it down.
At the end of the day, it's not really possible. But you can lay with them on the grass and point out all the funny shapes the clouds make as they inevitably pass by.
Mental health support services:
Lifeline - 13 11 14
The new SBS series 'How 'Mad' Are You?' takes a unique look at mental health. It will be broadcast on SBS from October 11 at 8:30pm on SBS.