You may have come across someone who, according to you, was acting out of societal norms. We are not talking about the “rebel” or your indie teenager who likes to prance around in the desert – we are talking about someone with serious mood swings or even that neighbor who creeps you out because they act bat-shit crazy. Mental illness is no joking matter. If there is ever a suspicion that things aren’t what they seem, work on your suspicions by first contacting a medical expert to further define the symptoms and zero-in on a probable mental illness. If you get to know that the individual is genuinely suffering from a disorder, you need to be calm and understanding about it. This is the new millennium and we are all mature individuals who are embracing acceptance in other fields, so why not with psychiatric issues?

      Learn about the disorder – There is nothing worse than approaching a situation with ignorance about it. It is like being blind and walking in the dark. First, you need to do your research before jumping to conclusions. Being aware of what is going on will make you a better support for the patient. Also, if you are aware that the bizarre behavior is linked to a genuine mental condition, you will automatically be more understanding and be able to love the person (while secretly hating the mental affliction).

      Work with a professional – Yes, psychiatrists and other medical experts may be expensive (let’s be honest here!), but they are your best bet when dealing with something so fragile as a mental disorder. Google and other resource material may be the first place you go when suspicion is raised, but your loved one is an individual that has a unique case and has to be dealt with as such. Only a human being, not a computer, can work with the patient on the road to their recovery.

      Be hopeful, but realistic – Because the field of psychiatry is murky, you need to stay as positive and hopeful as you can. There is no physical evidence of what is going on inside your loved one’s head except for tests and the outward behavior of the patient, so you can never be sure if things are going to get worse or better. While being hopeful, you also need to be as realistic as possible that things may not get better overnight, but that you are willing to be there because your loved one needs you more than ever.

      Look for support – Sorry for the comparison, but this journey is similar to a patient recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction. Rule no. 1, this mental disease is not who the person is, but is a parasite on the mind that will eventually be removed with persistence, therefore love the patient, hate the disease. Rule no. 2, do not try to do this alone. This will only add to the stress and frustration of the whole situation. There are many groups that you can join either in person or online and share your burden with others.

      Be open – Another important point for you to remember is that you matter, too. Yes, your loved one is going through a tough time understanding his/her own emotions but that doesn’t mean that yours get left out of the picture. Let them know that there are certain boundaries to behavior and be open when they cross said boundaries. This will bring about open dialogue and will help you deal with the situation much better because you know that you are in this equation as well.

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