Man and woman holding hands / Min An / Pexels.com
I stayed in a three-year relationship out of fear that my partner would harm himself if I left. He depended heavily on me as an outlet for his depression, and while this quickly took a turn for the toxic, I felt the overwhelming weight of his life in my hands. So, I stayed far longer than what was beneficial for my own mental health.
New Zealand’s suicide epidemic is well-known by now for how devastating it is. Each time it touched my life, I saw the same well-meaning, heartfelt posts appear on my Facebook feed.
“Another life gone too soon. Never hesitate to message me if you are going through a dark time.”
“Always willing to lend a listening ear.”
“If you feel like talking to someone, my DMs are forever open.”
I noted that these posts were all made by women. We so often are vented to; we’re the nurturing hands that willingly receive whatever pain is placed there. And somehow, we’re supposed to make things better (see social media’s treatment of Ariana Grande after Mac Miller’s death.)
But that’s not true, or healthy.
When I landed myself in counselling after a particularly bad fight, my counsellor said that the support I had offered was similar to the support they provided. Only, I was merely a teenager; inexperienced, untrained, and without the mechanisms to separate myself from the toxicity of the things I encountered.
I was not even close to being equipped for the role for which I had volunteered myself, but I thought I was because I had no other resort to help the person I loved.
Wading these deep waters, it’s important to remember that the mental health epidemic is a multi-faceted issue. Child poverty, domestic violence, systemic racism and gender roles intersect in a poisonous combination. The issue can’t be solved by countless Mother Teresas who accept all the pain that comes their way if the source of the pain is not addressed. It will just keep flowing.
And that is not to say mentally-ill people shouldn’t receive help—just that it doesn’t always have to come from one person. Like how a stool needs a minimum of three legs to stand, we all need three support networks. These can be friends, family, counsellors, or platforms like Youthline, What’s Up? and Tautoko.
If you are relied on to be a listening ear or shoulder to cry on more than what’s comfortable, it’s okay to say no. The best plan of action for all parties could be to refer them to other support networks. Maybe you aren’t ready to carry that depth of suffering, or a family member might have better advice, or there is an exam the next morning. Education, career and sleep are just as important as mental illness if they are important to you.
Regardless of whose mental health is better or worse, you do not need to sacrifice yours for someone else’s.
If you, or someone you know, needs help, here’s a list of organisations that can offer support:
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
Freephone: 0800 376 633 (24/7)
Freephone: 0800 543 354 (24/7)
Freephone: 0508 828 865 (24/7)
Freephone: 0800 111 757 (24/7)
Text: 1737 (24/7)
Freephone: 0800 726 666 (24/7)Support Villainesse