Many of my clients have lived with chronic invalidation of their experiences. Afterall, there is no “test” for depression or anxiety. We can’t do blood work to confirm stage two depression or take an x-ray or MRI to confirm anxiety of the brain. We have to rely on self report by clients about the symptoms they are having, their intensity and duration. This is difficult for “outsiders” to understand as most conditions require objective testing to confirm their existence prior to treatment.
So what can we do? If you are the one with the mental health condition, practice being very descriptive of your symptoms so that they are easier to understand, record and measure. For example: “I have had more difficulty getting out of bed since Tuesday. I typically turn on my radio and get up after 2 songs; now it takes on average an hour. During that hour I am trying to convince myself to get up, it seems that my body is heavier and my energy is lower. As a result I have been skipping my showers and I am not wearing makeup.” This description allows you and your providers to measure progress or decompensation more clearly than “I can’t get up in the morning”. Our example allows us to measure by how many songs it takes to get up, whether you get a shower and whether you put on your makeup.
What can you do as a family member or friend? Believe the person! For the most part, I sincerely believe that people are telling the truth about their symptoms. When in an acute episode, cognitive distortions are common and may cause you to think the person is exaggerating, lying, or being manipulative; however it is their PERCEPTION of the symptoms that is important. They do not need to prove anything to you. Just listen and validate. Only offer problem solving if they ask for it. Throwing out random solutions or overgeneralized/oversimplified solutions is typically perceived as invalidating and unhelpful. For example: “just get out of bed, you’ll feel better”. Now while this may be true, and your friend likely knows that, just getting out of bed isn’t always as easy as it seems. Saying “I can see you are feeling low energy today. Let me know if I can do anything to help” is much more understanding and patient, allowing the person to talk to you rather than get defensive.