Teaching our children to be kind and compassionate––especially to classmates isolated because of bipolar disorder–– is so important in today’s world.
I recently got this question: “How can my daughter in middle school help a fellow classmate who’s struggling with mental illness? Do you have any suggestions about what to say that might be helpful to this boy and that will show kindness, compassion and seek to understand him?”
As I read further, I realized it’s an unfortunate situation. Neither the teacher nor the school has provided any anti-stigma programs or education around psychiatric illnesses. The boy’s behavior makes it apparent something is going on and he’s discussed (often in frustration) he has mental illness, but nothing is being explained to the other young people there.
Teaching our children to be kind and compassionate to others is important and good life skills in general. But it’s even more urgent when someone feels isolated and conspicuous and when that someone is a youth.
Helping depends on how comfortable the young person is in reaching out to offer help and if it feels appropriate and authentic for them to do so.
Small gestures of kindness are powerful
Saying ‘hi’ and treating the struggling student like any other friend is incredibly healing. Including him in regular conversations and telling him she’s glad that he’s in her class is validating and reassuring. Though of course it should only be said if it’s true. Truth and words spoken from the heart are critical elements. Inviting him to eat lunch with her and her friends is a great way to connect (though this can be difficult because cliques have already formed).
In a way it’s about NOT talking about his disorder.
He likely feels very different and like he stands out (for all the wrong reasons). A sense of belonging is a key part of a healthy adolescence. So helping this boy who’s managing a mental illness feel like he isn’t an outsider, is an exceptionally kind and compassionate action to take.
If she has a friendship with him or develops a close one, she could gently tell him she’d like to know more about his mental illness. But it’s important to gauge whether the boy is open to discussing it or if it’s just too raw a subject for him.
If they are or become good friends a simple ‘if you want to talk, I’m here’ is powerfully helpful.
What helped you when you were in the early stages of recovery? What did your friends say that was most helpful?
Victoria Maxwell BFA, the self-proclaimed Bi-Polar Princess, is one of North America’s top speakers on the lived experience of mental illness and recovery, dismantling stigma and returning to work after a psychiatric disorder. She lives with bipolar disorder, anxiety and psychosis and has for more than 14 years, been presenting performances and workshops across Canada and the United States. Her award winning one-person shows tour internationally. She’s a researcher with the international Collaborative Research Team on Bipolar Disorder and her Psychology Today blog, ‘Crazy for Life’ was named one of the Top Ten Bipolar Blogs from PsychCentral. Connect with Victoria through her website, Twitter, and Facebook!
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