Rarely, if ever, do people accuse me of having a lack of compassion for people with a mental illness. This is probably because I am a person with a mental illness so I kind of know where other mentally ill people are coming from.
Nevertheless, this is exactly what one commenter recently did:
This is a tragic post because the writer is incapable of honoring the struggle of a human being who is in pain. Rather than muster empathy, compassion and problem-solving, she shuts out the people who need her most. There is something wrong with America when families send their loved ones to prison or institutions when what they need most is the love and support of their community.
The commenter is referring to a post wherein I suggested that sometimes the right thing to do is to say goodbye to a person with a mental illness. Particularly in cases where a person is abusive and refuses to get help, sometimes walking away is the only thing left to do in order to protect your own life. I stand by this sentiment.
Compassion, Empathy and Problem-Solving
And for the record, I’m all for employing empathy, compassion and problem-solving in all aspects of life and of course when dealing with a mental illness. That’s why I’ve written about helping people with a mental illness and telling someone they have a mental illness and convincing someone to get help with a mental illness.But empathy, compassion and problem-solving have limits. None of us is superhuman. And people with a mental illness aren‘t the only ones deserving of compassion.
Compassion for People around Those with a Mental Illness
And the thing this commenter has completely failed to take into account is that compassion is needed for those that deal with the mentally ill as well. If you read the comments on this post you will read about heartbreaking tales of people who have tried everything they can think of and yet are still in a situation where the mentally ill person they love is still refusing help, or cannot get help, or is abusive, or is downright scary. These people are dealing with a whirling dervish of chaos in the best way they know how.
Sometimes Leaving is Best
And as I told one commenter, sometimes removing an unhealthy, overdeveloped bond between a person with a mental illness and their loved one can give the mentally ill person a chance to shine on their own. Sometimes it takes the removal of a backstop to find out how powerful we are. That is a human trait all over.
Leaving a Person with a Mental Illness is Painful
And something else this commenter glossed over is this: very few want to leave a person with a mental illness. Most people are trying to avoid doing just that and that’s why they’re talking to me. They want to problem-solve. They have compassion. They have empathy. It’s just that in their case there may be no solution that leaves the mentally ill person in their lives, or in their homes.
And make no mistake, loved ones rail against this notion. The want to help and protect their loved ones. It’s just that we can’t always do that and preserve our own sanity.
Advocating for the Mentally Ill Means Advocating for those that Love them Too
So yes, while I advocate for people with a mental illness every day, part of my job is advocating for those that love a person with a mental illness too – because mental illness itself affects more than just the person who is sick. And the people who love someone with a mental illness no more deserve to have their lives ruined than does the sick person themselves.
About Natasha Tracy
Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.