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Support and Setting Boundaries

By Jenora Vaswani

There’s plenty of information on mental health and advice for friends and family who want to support people they care about with mental health issues, and that’s a wonderful thing.

But I’m writing to say that you might not always be the right person to help with someone’s mental health and that’s okay too.

A couple years back, I had a romantic relationship that wasn’t the healthiest of relationships to say the least. My partner was suffering from major depression, and his actions led to a detrimental dependence on me to ensure his happiness. I don’t believe he actively meant to hurt me, but among other things, my relationships with family and friends deteriorated, some of them severely. Constant messaging took away from other aspects of my life. I was put on a pedestal that meant I wasn’t necessarily perceived as a human being with flaws and all but idealised instead. Subtle but damaging guilt trips led to things like being made to feel I needed to say ‘I love you’ back two weeks into the relationship when I wasn’t comfortable saying it yet. There was a lack of respect for the boundaries I set, and his response that I hadn’t clearly explained when, looking back at my messages, I had indeed, changed my ability to trust. There was also the implication of suicide if I broke up with him.

I wanted to help, but I don’t believe I was in the best position to do so, nor was staying in the relationship the best way to do so.

I walked away from the relationship and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, partly because of the responsibility of ‘needing’ to shoulder someone else’s wellbeing — a responsibility that I believe is above and beyond anything someone, whether a friend, partner, or family member, should have.

I want to say that taking a step back or leaving doesn’t mean you don’t care.
It doesn’t mean you’re heartless.
It just means that the circumstances aren’t lined up the right way for you to help, and it’s important to look after yourself and your mental health.

Having both your own mental health and theirs deteriorate is not a solution.

This doesn’t mean not helping.

If you are in a position to do so, you have the option of reaching out to various support networks.

  • Talk to their friends and family if appropriate.
  • Signpost relevant charities or counselling services within the university or institution.

Setting boundaries with them is also an option.

  • Talking about how certain actions affect you, and what you can help with is a good shout.
  • Make it clear that there will be times where you will be unable to help, and that doesn’t mean you don’t care anymore.
  • Mention that it is not advisable to be their only source of support, and suggest ways of building up a stronger support network around them.

Caring for someone can be a great source of support for someone going through a hard time, but it does not and should not involve being their carer. In first aid courses, you are taught to check that a situation is safe for you to enter before applying any first aid skills. The same principle applies to mental health.

Students against Depression writes on their website:

Remind yourself that you cannot take on responsibility for keeping another person safe or making them happy – that responsibility is ultimately theirs. Make sure you are properly supported. It can be extremely stressful living with or caring about a person affected by depression.

Ultimately, each individual is responsible for their own actions.
You should not need to take on the responsibility of another person’s autonomy nor their wellbeing.

A person chooses to act, and they are in charge of their own actions.

Help if you can, but remember that you are just as important and you need to look after yourself too.

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