What if we stop helping? / Blog / By Catherine Mailloux What if we stop helping? What if we stopped helping? Mental illnesses are known to affect a person’s functioning in all spheres of life: social network, work, family life, etc. However, we sometimes forget that the people close to us, whether friends, family or colleagues, are also greatly affected by this illness and are mostly powerless in the situation. In a benevolent approach towards their loved one, many of the new clients who contact us ask: “But how can I help my loved one? In these few paragraphs, I will try to explain why we rarely use the verb “to help”, but rather “to accompany”, which could also lead you to redefine your role with your loved one. Why “help”? The first reflex when we think of the word “help” is to refer to the basic definition, which is “to support [someone] by giving help, to assist, to second, to rescue, to relieve, to support” (Petit Robert, 2022). However, this definition resonates with us more as a role of taking care of the person, the notion of duty, of savior, because the person seems unable to take care of himself. It is important to understand that the person with a mental illness is not usually incapacitated, intellectually challenged or disabled. This means that they can still make decisions for themselves, although sometimes their decisions may seem illogical or nonsensical to us, which leads to conflict. The more we try to “help” them, the more they will think we are trying to infantilize them or take control of their lives. With this in mind, we think it is wiser to redefine our role with our loved one in order to accompany her in her daily life. This word is not magic, but the way we apply this change sometimes has a great impact on the relationship you will have with the person with the disease. How do we see the role of companion? We can then refer to the role of companion as described by the Before You Break: “Companionship refers to the support you can offer a loved one, not the taking over of their life. It is a respectful role towards your loved one that does not take away from the feelings you have for them, while respecting their autonomy. (The Indispensable, p.12, 2012). We can therefore understand that this role aims to respect the autonomy of our loved one and to aim for the latter’s empowerment. Moreover, this new role of companion also aims to take a weight off our shoulders, because being a caregiver is very energy consuming and often heavy to carry. Concretely, what can we do about it? The answer is rather easy. We have to change our “savior” attitude, accept our feelings of guilt often linked to powerlessness, and take on an “empowering” attitude. You may say that this sounds easier said than done, but here are some examples that may surprise you in their simplicity: a) TRY NOT: I'm going to make your doctor's appointment because I can see you're not well. (Taking charge) TRY : I notice that you seem to be more distracted/sensitive/threatened/agitated than usual. Do you feel this way too? Is there anything you would like to do to get better? Would you like to make an appointment with your doctor to discuss this? * b)TRY NOT: : You forgot to pay your last bills and spent the money you were supposed to. I will pay them for you, I don't want you to be in financial trouble. (Guilt/Savior) TRY : You seem to have forgotten to pay your last few bills and spent the money you had planned for them. Would you like to meet with me to review your budget? Do you want to consult a financial advisor who can help you find a solution to your debts? * c) Don't: My son will soon be released from his psychiatric hospitalization. I am not comfortable taking him home, but I am obliged to take him in or he will be homeless. (Obligation/Guilt). TRY : When he calls me, I will tell him that I am not comfortable with him coming home to live with me currently, I will advise him to see an advocate at the hospital, who can refer him to transitional housing resources.. * *These examples are simplified and generalized, but representative of discussions we regularly have with our clients. Your loved one may not react or respond in the way you would like. It is therefore important to respect his or her autonomy and to let him or her experience the consequences, positive or negative, of his or her choices in order to learn from them. When we regularly experience situations where we are spectators of our loved one’s distress, it is normal to feel the need to help them. However, sometimes it is in their best interest, and yours, to accompany them in their healing process rather than taking everything on your shoulders. That’s why the Suroît Bridge counsellors are available to ASSIST YOU in learning new tools, clarifying your new role and preserving your mental well-being. If you have any questions or would like to meet with a counsellor, please visit our website under “Make an appointment” or call us at 450-377-3126.