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Listen to understand, not to react

My first encounter with mental health happened when I was 21 years old and had just entered my second year of graduation. My best friend, who was otherwise the most cheerful and bubbly girl of our class, started showing signs of being a mental health sufferer and none of us could make out what went wrong.

She suddenly stopped talking to us, lost interest in daily activities, and stopped studying — the latter of which resulted in her grades falling drastically. We would always find her sitting alone in a corner lost in her own thoughts. All my friends tried hard to help her in whatever way they could think of, but all our efforts were going in vain. It seemed she had vanished somewhere; we could feel her presence physically but mentally she was in some other world which we didn’t know about.

Eventually most of our classmates started ignoring her as they thought that despite their best efforts of cheering her up and trying to talk to her, she was still not going back to her old self. Whenever they saw her, they tried to avoid her because they all felt negativity, not realizing that those cold behaviours towards her were harming her more, further worsening her already bad condition.

But somehow I felt maybe our approach was wrong and that perhaps we needed to try something else. I promised myself not to give up until I got her back healthy and hearty because, after all, she is my best friend and that’s what true friendship is all about. I then read as much as I could regarding the symptoms she was showing from whatever sources I could find, be it newspaper articles, magazines, or journal papers. I jotted down whatever I thought could be of help and started applying it practically, not knowing what the outcome could be.

I would talk to her, told her how much I love her, ask her how she felt, what she thought, and tried to have her speak her viewpoints regarding various topics. I attempted to build her trust back in me so that she could pour her heart to me. I just tried to be a good listener who listens to understand and not to react.

Finally, after continuous efforts over several weeks she slowly started responding — an achievement in of itself. I used to tell her that no matter what, I believed in her. Slowly she started talking and smiling faintly. Things started to become better.

Our circle of friends assured her that she is the same old friend to us and whether she is suffering from any mental ailment, that it won’t change her relationship with any of us. We accepted her the way she was and slowly we saw visible changes in her coming back to her own old self.

This personal experience taught me that people suffering from any type of mental ailment are not much different — they just need to be accepted. Appreciating them for their small efforts towards recovery and allowing them to share what they think and feel goes a long way.

Do your best to not give up on them. It may take a lot of time to regain their trust or have them open up, but have patience. Love and acceptance of our near and dear ones as they go through their challenging times is one of the most important things we can do for others.

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