“You are a breath of fresh air in a world that can often be suffocating.” 💕
I often receive emails from people who are looking for support while struggling with a mental illness. As someone who suffered from bulimia and depression throughout my entire teenage years, I somewhat understand what people are going through, and this is very valuable when helping others. However, even though I have struggled myself and overcome my eating disorder, I still didn’t know how to best support others, and had not received any professional training. So when the opportunity to attend an Eating Disorder Support workshop with BodyWhys arose, I was so excited to attend! This workshop lasted 6 hours and we discussed different eating disorders, and how to help those suffering through facilitating support groups or running email services.
Before attending this workshop, I thought the way I replied to emails was perfectly fine. I didn’t realise that there was so many aspects I needed to improve on if I wanted to give people the support they deserved. Although this workshop was about eating disorders, the advice I am about to share can apply to any problem in any area of life.
A little wisdom I learnt:
– You don’t have to be an expert or know all the answers. In fact, ignorance can be a useful tool. It allows you to ask questions and help that person, rather than assuming you understand what they’re going through. Every person has a different experience so never generalise or categorise people.
– Ask open ended questions to keep the conversation going, such as “How are you feeling?” rather than “Do you feel good?”.
– Always create a safe and confidential space where people feel comfortable opening up to you. It can be REALLY scary for some people to share their struggles, so it’s important they don’t feel judged, and that they can trust you. You might be the only person they reach out to, so treat them with the kindness and compassion you would like to be treated with yourself.
– You don’t need to give advice or share your own experiences. We should never make it all about us if our goal is to help others. Talking can often help a person come to their own solution. There should never be “you should do this” in your conversation. Don’t tell people what to do. Different people find differe
nt things helpful (and detrimental!). If you offer advice that doesn’t work out for this person, they may never confide in you again. This burns bridges and can leave the person suffering in silence. Even the best intentioned advice that works for 99% of people, may not work for the person you are talking to. It is best to support them on their own path rather than assume you know how to fix their issues. Most people are not looking for a solution— they just need to talk through their feelings.
– Empathise don’t sympathise. Don’t bring your own opinions into other people’s issues. We all have different lives and perspectives. Make sure you are aware of this.
– Try not to make a big fuss or compliment people. If a person is progressing in their recovery, don’t use phrases such as “you are amazing!” or “congratulations”. Instead acknowledge what they are going through with phrases such as “that must have been so difficult for you. How do you feel now?”. When a person is struggling, congratulating them for moving forward can often cause a lot of stress. Even though it is done out of kindness, it can make the person feel pressure to keep giving you good news. This means if they do have a hard day or relapse, they are less likely to tell you about it, as they want to continue making you proud.
After learning this information, I have definitely changed the way I support others. I found this advice so beneficial and I hope that you do too. Remember, sometimes all you have to do is be there for a person. Be their breath of fresh air in a world that is often suffocating.