What Does an Emotionally Struggling Person Need the Most?

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness   (c)2013 Nancy Virden

Tired businessman working in office

Imagine with me there is a five year-old boy in America, who takes a big dirt shovel out of his family garage, half-hoisting and half-dragging it. He is fairly successful at taking it to his project site, even though the heavy end catches in the earth in front of him and nearly topples him on his nose.

Once there, all of his three feet and eight inches lifts the five foot wooden rod and manages to plant the tool into position. He squeezes. His grip is hard, and he thinks, muscular.

Committment to the mission shows on his little face as he strains to dig. The shovel is awkward, and he is inexperienced with this type of labor. Yet the joy of finding a short-cut to China is all his passion in the moment.

Now, let’s take a look into his future. He is twenty-one, talented,  and on a path toward becoming an architectural engineer.  His work ethic is proven, no one questions his focus. He has friends on the university campus, a family who keeps in contact,  his grades are good, and an internship at a prestigious firm may be on the horizon.

Something is bothering him, though. In between classes and horsing-around with his friends, he senses a sadness, and sighs.  Heaviness is wrapping itself over his shoulders. He literally tries to shrug it off. He reasons, “I’m stressed because of all the pressures. I just need to man-up and not let things get to me.”

The same determination that helped him dig a ten inch wide hole in hard earth as a child, now pushes him to class every day, and compels him to finish his homework. He feels temporarily distracted from his somber attitude while with his friends, however lately, their boisterous activity has annoyed him. Inwardly, he reacts to what seems their go-lucky existence. That was a stupid old joke. I just want to be alone. I hate happy people.

This irritation begins to seep out in words, and display itself in rolled eyes, and occasional abruptness. His friends are starting to ask him how he is feeling, only the phrases they choose are more like, “What’s your problem today, man?” They offer advice too, “Chill out!”

As he experiences more self-imposed isolation, and rejection from his friends who are not enjoying his company just now, his mood sinks further. It doesn’t help that he is frustrated with himself as well as life in general.

Are you sensing you would not want to be around this young man either? Did you like him at the beginning of the story?

Time frame, symptoms, situations, and relationships all differ between people who face emotional and mental difficulties. Bipolar Disorder, Major Depression, Borderline Personality Disorder,  Anxiety Disorder – all present mood changes and may be challenging for supports to watch. So, what is needed most in these situations, and by others who struggle?

Defining this young man by his present mood is unfair, albeit easy to do. Writing him off as a pain in the neck is understandable to a degree. That does not change anything, though. Remember what he is like when he is well. Recall the diligent five year-old, the jokester, the man who gave you a bear-hug last summer.

See past today and into the potential of wellness for your loved-one or your friend. The investment is worth it.  Because what people with emotion and mental challenges need most is non-judgemental acceptance and love. You know, just like everyone does.


NOTE: I am not a trained or licensed mental health professional. I am not a doctor. I speak only from my experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

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