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9 lessons on life from a mental health hospital

Visiting a mental hospital changed my life. Here are why, what, and how.

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I visited a mental hospital 5 times as a volunteer. Last time they forgot about me and closed doors. It’s an unusual experience. Here are my 9 lessons from a mental hospital.

1. Deep conversations

  • How are you?
  • I’m Ok.

Sounds familiar, yes? The main problem:

Its not a conversation.

A lot of “I’m Ok.” end with suicide.

People say less than they feel. What to do about that? Get out of yourself and make it about others. Ask good questions, LISTEN, and try to help.

2. A lot of mental illnesses begin with sleep problems

Mental health and sleep are connected. Deeply.

I was talking to patients with depression, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s disease. All their problems began with sleep deprivation.

I used to ask friends:

“How are you?”

Now, I ask:

“How do you sleep?”

3. A mental hospital is not a dream place

Not at all. People are terrified of visiting a counselor for the first time. I don’t say about going into a psych hospital.

But.

Being in a mental hospital is better than being dead. 

If you need help, don’t be silent. Ask for help. You don’t need to wait for a crisis to get support.

4. Real people cry: real women cry, real men cry

Boys don’t cry. 

It’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard.

Discussing your feelings is important. Expressing your emotions isn’t a sign of weakness. We are Human.

Note: crying all the time isn’t normal for both men and women. Look for the reason.

5. People around us

The people around us matter more than everything.

Here’s my rule:

Always surround myself with people who help me become a better version of myself. Kindly avoid others.

You’ll ask:

“But, but, but, Lena, what’s about relatives?”

Do you see the word “always” in my rule?

Always is always.

It’s pretty good to help others. But we can’t help others if we’re in poor physical and mental health.

Take care of yourself.

6. Empathy is expensive

We’re not born with empathy. Who is the best empathy teacher?

Life.

What’s wrong with life’s empathy lessons?

They’re very expensive.

I’ll give you an example:

Who is the most empathetic about mental well-being?

People who had (have) problems with mental health. Or their relatives.

You got me.

Should we wait for such expensive lessons?

No. 

How to develop empathy?

Practice kindness.

We’re not born with empathy. But we’re born with the capacity for empathy. We should develop it.

7. Practice kindness

Here is the thing:

When I ask people, “Are you kind?”,

90% of them answer, “Yes!”

When I ask people, “Will you stop if someone is crying in public?”,

90% of them answer, “No.”

Why does this happen?

People confuse kindness with being nice. But there is a big difference between being nice and being kind.

An interesting observation: most kind people are not nice.

How to practice kindness every day:

  • help a stranger
  • volunteer
  • pass books on
  • recycle

Want more ideas? Read 40 Simple Ways to Practice Kindness.

8. Psych strength. Physical strength

You can’t be physically healthy if you have mental problems. Poor physical health can provoke mental health problems.

I used to think muscles make us strong. Now I know: physical strength is important, but it’s not enough.

A 120-pound woman can be a strong person.

9. Our past is our past

Everyone has a sad story. No, it’s not the reason for feeling sorry for yourself.

Rick Warren said:

“We are products of our past, but we don’t have to be prisoners of it.”

It’s our experience. It can be different — bad or good. We’re here for a purpose.

Why not share your story. Maybe it will become someone’s survival guide.

***

I want to leave you with the advice I give to myself. Life isn’t easy, and it’s normal. We should wake up every day with gratitude. And thrive. Thrive, despite everything.

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