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Ask Ellie: Advice from a survivor of mental illness

Young student needs to consult with a ­therapist, undergo a mental health ­evaluation and get a treatment plan

FEEDBACK Regarding the university student whose friend is extremely anxious (Oct. 7):

“I read your column daily. I find your responses helpful in helping me navigate life and also in working through for myself how I may deal with, or respond to, situations described in letter submissions.

“I read your response to this young university student’s dilemma with surprise and sadness. ‘Sky’ cared enough about her friend to write to you and ask for advice, and it is absolutely not their responsibility to care for their suffering friend.

“However, it seems evident from the handful of examples noted in Sky’s letter that the friend is dealing with some form of anxiety or other mental health disorder (possibly OCD?). The range of possible conditions is broad — from ­manageable “home sickness” that many ­students can ­experience when moving away to university (some to more severe degrees than others) to less ­manageable conditions that ­warrant ­immediate medical and/or ­therapeutic intervention to hopefully divert the path the sufferer is on, reduce the possibility of way more serious outcomes down the road and help get the person back on a thriving path.

“When someone is suffering with mental illness, it is not rational. The sufferer’s ability to think rationally is hindered or non-existent. Using rational thought is not helpful and in fact can be very hurtful because it often results in the suffering person feeling like they are even more broken.

“I think this young student needs to consult with a ­therapist, undergo a mental health ­evaluation and get a treatment plan. More importantly, she needs someone to be with her in her suffering, to listen, validate, be with her in her pain and in the knowledge that she will get through this with time. That is the advice I would have hoped to read in your response.

“It is, of course, not Sky’s responsibility to be that ‘safe person’ if they do not feel ­capable at this very important time in their lives. That is absolutely understandable. However, Sky may be amazed at how little ‘listening and validating’ time is needed to help their friend.

“Once someone feels ‘heard,’ once a person can actually sit with and tolerate a loved one’s pain for even a few minutes, the beneficial results are immediate and can be transformational.

“We need to talk about mental health, but we also all should educate ourselves — talking about it is not enough to erase the stigma.”

Mental illness survivor

Lisi — Thank you so much for your very thoughtful and ­in-depth feedback. As a ­mental illness survivor, you caught ­tidbits of information in the ­letter writer’s description of her friend that obviously spoke to you. I’m appreciative of your point of view. I truly hope the ­letter writer sees your response and a) gives her friend the ­listening and validating you ­mention; and b) learns to ­recognize the signs if ever another friend is suffering.

Dear Lisi: My wife and I cannot agree on some basic small issues that are causing major rifts. Our main issue is this: She likes to sleep with the window open for fresh air, but I can’t sleep with all the street noises.

We tried a compromise of going to bed with the window closed, and when she wakes up in the middle of the night she opens the window. But the noises outside wake me and then I can’t get back to sleep, so I’m exhausted.

She’s grumpy because I’m grumpy because I’m tired. I also think it’s a waste of energy to heat the house and keep the ­window open. It’s counterproductive. What do we do?

Tired vs. Fresh

The two of you need to think outside of the box. The fact that you’re compromising is definitely a step in the right direction. Yes, it’s not energy efficient to have the heat on and the windows open, however, if your wife only needs the window open in the middle of the night, and is willing to wake up and open it, then the heat thing is a small issue.

What about wearing earplugs to bed? You won’t hear the noise from the street, so you’ll sleep and everyone will be happy.

Ellie Tesher and Lisi Tesher are advice columnists for the Star and based in Toronto. Send questions to

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