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How to be an ally to someone struggling with mental health: You Are Not Alone

This is advice for those times when you may not know what to do.

CLEVELAND — Sometimes raising awareness about mental health isn't just about ending stigmas, it's about finding help -- and sometimes that applies to someone seeking mental health help. But what about their friends and family who want to be there for them more? This is the help you've been looking for.

This is how you can be an ally.

"My boyfriend, he used to say all the time, 'I don't know how to help you' when I would have these depressive episodes, I couldn't get out of bed," says Ciera Herron, who remembers those specific days very well.

Many of us can relate to this moment: Someone we love is sad, and we don't know how to help. Or we say something meant to be helpful that can leave someone feeling helpless.

"He was like what can I do to fix you, he felt like it was his fault," she remembers. 'And because he felt that, he projected that onto me, and I felt like well now I'm ruining my life and yours."

So how do we become allies to those struggling with their mental health? It's important to know tendencies of those living with some form of anxiety, often the root of other extreme conditions.

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"People with anxiety have these characteristics of overly worrying and perfectionism," says Adam Qin, a clinical therapist out of Independence.

"Overly worrying is something horrible is going to happen and they won't be able to handle. Perfectionism is worrying they'll never live up to their full potential, so their mind is constantly swinging between two statuses." 

In a moment of sadness like Herron was feeling, Qin recommends two steps to begin a process of trust and understanding.

First, instead of bringing up instant solutions you should meet the person where they're at.

"Even if sometimes it's going in the direction you think is the wrong direction, but the important thing is keeping the same page or stage with them. You have to go backward with them, hold their hand first, then be able to pull them forward."

Next, bring up a similar situation where they did handle something well to help them see a positive side of things.

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"If someone is always worrying about an exam or job duty, just ask them how they did that in the past and listen to their full story," Qin says. "Quickly, they're going to find out that they actually have very good records of what they're worrying about."

As you go through the struggle with them, your patience may be tested. But just as your loved one pulled themselves out of other situations, know they'll be able to get through this, too.

Herron says she got to a better point with her boyfriend (now fiance), and eventually they came to an understanding.

"I had to explain to him, this isn't your fault, you can't fix me. I have to fix me."

To learn more about being an ally, and other issues those who struggle with mental health deal with, check out the Ladies and Tangents podcast, that Herron is part of.

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