I recently had a thought about mental health – and a kind of, how well do we communicate our needs within fetish and BDSM.

I realised that this was something myself I could do better, but I was interested about a wider base.

Most Dominants have a section about health needs on their contact forms, or encourage info of health considerations to be volunteered.

This generally is common sense as some things shouldn’t come as a surprise or are important not to.

So, for example – a sub with a frozen shoulder isn’t really too difficult to deal with, but you might not have them in an arms raised position.
A sub with asthma you might make sure inhalers are to hand and might not put them through anything that risks an asthma attack.

What I wanted to know was how often subs raised mental health issues.

I know I hadn’t been as forthcoming on mine as was possibly necessary, but I wanted to see if this was “just me” so to speak.

The results I got…

75% of Dominants had said it was rare anyone raised a mental health issue on the form.
66% of submissives had said they didn’t raise mental health issues.

Obviously taking into consideration a small pool sample, that’s still a fairly worrying trend.

I mean, of course, there are reasons and there’s context.
It may very well be that the associated issue is actually not relevant.

Say, someone with social anxiety struggling with large groups of people may not feel this relevant for a one-on-one session.
It might only become more relevant if the Dominant suggests a social date.

For me, there is a lot to consider about mental health.

My poll sparked a little bit discussion with some Dominants asking how they could help those with issues – and there’s some factors that are very important for everyone to consider.

The language of my post has a bias towards subs with Mental Health needs and Dominants who they are seeing. I appreciate that it might actually be the other way round. A lot should be transferable.

My post involves things that both or either party should be doing and this is also important because in some ways you cannot help someone who can’t help themselves.

time to talk2 orig 300x234 - Mental Health in BDSM : Helping Yourself and Others

THERE’S NOT A ONE CATCH ISSUE FOR ALL MENTAL HEALTH

There’s a lot of different shades.
The most common mental health problems in the UK are anxiety and depression. With those who are affected often having one or both. But there’s also different levels they can have and different ways it can affect people.
But, for some people they may be affected, but mild. Others may be more severe.

NOT ALL MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES HAVE A “NEED”

A reason that it might be left from a form is it just might not be deemed relevant. If I was going to meet someone one-on-one for a session I might be a little nervous – but the the majority of things that affect me are unlikely to occur. We may have discussed things via interests or limits which steers away from anything problematic.

IT’S DIFFICULT TO TALK ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH

Despite being scarily common, there is a lot of stigma around talking about mental health. Some of this can go from society constructs. Through not wanting to seem “weak”. It may be that someone fears talking about it will make them seem too much like hard work, and you’ll want to avoid them. Or that you wouldn’t understand.
If someone has had prior problems when there Mental Health has saw them miss out on opportunities, or contributed to a decline of friendship or relationship, they may be reserved in discussing this.

YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR OWN WELLBEING

A lot of people with MH issues do sometimes struggle with this and can engage in behaviours that make their health worse, rather than better. It’s also very important to seek out things that can help you/others.
This could include seeking out self-help, seeing a health professional or taking prescribed medication. It could include self-care days and de-stressing.
It could include eating better, drinking less, getting more rest.
If you feel “a relationship” would help then you are already weighting expectations to someone else – which is a problem I’ll come to soon.
Your Dominant is not your Doctor. Whilst someone should be good at listening (another point coming soon) they cannot fix you nor should they try to. They can help, but there’s a line to it.

Something Dominants can help with here – set the sub tasks to see a Doctor, to eat healthily, to drink less. Don’t make any “punishments” that get them attention. If the nature of your relationship means they’re doing tasks for you, make sure they are able to get proper rest.

BDSM CAN HELP… TO A DEGREE

Hobbies can help. Socialising can help. If you live near munches they can often be a relatively inexpensive way of meeting friends and new people.
However, it’s important that what you are looking for in BDSM is something reasonable to get out. So, if for example you go to a local play event and have a lot of fun, that’s great for your wellbeing. If you go hoping for play and don’t get any, that can be disappointing. How much you weighted on that hope can add to this being a problem.

If you’re in a position to see or meet with a Dominant or client regularly that helps you feel good; then there’s still a case of managing this correctly. If you’re running up debt to fund sessions then eventually there’s going to be a point where you can no longer afford them AND now have money worries.
So, as a way to keep active, to keep interactive with people and have fun it’s good – but – there’s a line between the enjoyment and placing responsibility for your happiness onto someone else.

IF SOMEONE IS TALKING TO YOU ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH… LISTEN

Listening is actually a skill.
While just being someone they feel they can open up to is beneficial – it’s important to both let them talk and show you’re listening.
You can confirm back with them what they are saying for your own clarity, but showing you understand helps them see you respect your feelings.
You don’t have to agree with what they’re saying. But, in understanding their thoughts you can help.

It may be that they feel they are burdening you. It’s important to reassure this is not the case.

If this is burdening/straining you this is another point I will come to.

It’s also important that anything discussed where you either offer to do something; or they ask you not to do something. It’s important this is respected.

If someone says that certain language or type of play affects them, then ignoring/forgetting this will feel they weren’t listened to.
If you offer to do something and then don’t they will feel you were humouring them, that you just said it to get them ‘off your case’ and that they were burdening.

But, if you offer something and can’t follow up; then a conversation on this is more important than letting it slide. That’s not really mental heath specific, but someone with struggles might take it worse.

ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

I really don’t like the question “How are you?”. I often don’t know where to begin. I’m probably going to lie and say I’m OK. But you can be a little bit more specific. But also don’t try to answer the question within it “You seem low, are you OK?” – well, you just answered it – the person is low and isn’t OK.
I also think “Is there anything I can do to help?” is easier to answer in a ‘what if’ situation rather than when things are happening.

It’s easier to ask questions in a one-to-one situation when the other person is OK. Ask how certain scenarios might affect them. Ask how things affect their every day life. “How are you feeling about this thing…?” rather than just “How are you?”
Also if you see something is wrong, “What’s up?” can feel like you are probing and pressuring someone.

theratrix a domnatrix sits in the therapists alex gregory 300x238 - Mental Health in BDSM : Helping Yourself and OthersDON’T DIAGNOSE OR SECOND GUESS THEIR FEELINGS

While offering help and support is a great move; if this isn’t an area of your expertise then you’re not fully trained to diagnose or make assumptions.
The best way to find out feelings is to ask.

BE CAUTIOUS ON PRESSURING

Sometimes there’s a catch 22, that someone being socially active would help them. While you might “know” that attending munches or events would help them (a good way to keep social and make friends); for some this would be extremely daunting.

While on one hand this is an opportunity to make new friends; this could be seen to someone as strangers they don’t know how to act in front of. It might also lead to fears of not knowing what to say, fearing looking stupid, or feeling left out/isolated.

Going to an event and seeing everyone talking and knowing each other can make you feel more distant, not closer.

Sometimes it’s best to present the option and it’s there *when they’re ready*

“OTHERS HAVE IT WORSE”

Never, ever, say this. It offers nothing to solve any problems (real or imagined) and adds in guilt. This can lead the person to feel bad for feeling bad.
If you feel yourself bad for feeling bad, remember, it’s OK to be not OK sometimes. Your experience is no less valid.

THE CONTEXT OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP IS IMPORTANT

I know for example that sessions can be intense. You’ve booked a session or met someone for play in a club and it was a truly wonderful experience and you leave feeling great. It becomes respite or release from the struggles.
This ties in a little bit with my previous point that BDSM can help.

The problem is, however great it felt for you – that’s probably the relationship over.
You can send a thank you message – but it’s not really fair to send, say, a lengthily message about your Mental Health.
Likewise. If you receive a message “Oh, thank you for the play – I’ve been struggling a little bit recently, but it really helped me” – you don’t owe continued support.
Whilst it’s good to open up and communicate; and it’s good to provide a platform to support and listen – it does need to be appropriate to the relationship.

REACHING OUT

Sometimes you can see someone struggling and not sure if it’s appropriate to reach out or not.
I think first off a lot depends on the context of your relationship.

Remember even if you have previously offered “get in touch any time” at times they’re feeling low, they may feel a burden to you at this point.
You don’t owe contact to anyone you see struggling. But, if you think you can offer support it may ultimately be appreciated.
It should be done without aim for personal gain – and other points throughout this about questions and style could be considered.
It may also be worth checking in a couple of days later because then it feels less reactionary.

I know something which had previously upset me is that there was someone would often contact me when I was low, but I’d rarely otherwise hear from them – and in my low state I’d become afraid of writing anything that suggested I was low, because I felt I was manipulating them into contacting me. This only made things worse.
If you want to say something but don’t have a lot of time, you can make this clear in the message. This can avoid getting into a conversation longer than you wished to be in.

DO NOT EXCLUDE (OR INCLUDE) SOMEONE FOR THEIR MENTAL HEALTH

This is tricky, but also one of the worst things you can do. Either side. Opportunities, invitations, events, social media, photographs, filming, so on.
I’m sure everyone has their own ways of working and own requirements – but if someone is made to feel excluded this will make them worse. But equally, I know if I thought you were inviting me to something, not because you wanted me there but because of my health – then I’d also feel pretty shitty about it.

It may be allowances need to be made. If, for example the sub asks to do something with you, that you think their needs would be too much for – or, if you have an opportunity and again, do not wish to invite them because you think managing their needs would be to much.
This to me is fair.
However, they are going to feel like they’re missing out.

What somebody did with me recently is talk through the opportunity, assure me it would exist again in the future, and offered an alternative that we’d both enjoy that would be more manageable.

This tied in with feeling I was being understood.

Going the other way. I’d feel if I was invited to something because you wanted me to feel included; this would pay into a mindset that you didn’t really want to spend time with me and were doing so under obligation, not choice.

KNOW YOUR OWN LIMITS WHEN HELPING SOMEONE

Different people have different levels of mental health problems and this can be challenging.
I’m someone who has closely supported someone with severe mental health and know the strain it placed on me, which is a reason why I’ve often feared being a burden.
If they are placing a strain on you, it’s important you also get the rest you need.
Encourage them to seek help from a medical professional.
Discuss and set your own boundaries.
It’s also easier to support someone if you’re not doing it on your own, or if you’ve got your own support.
You can also contact health professionals yourself for support.

There is a catch 22 that someone who fears pushing people away may be pushing you away – and when that happens it’ll make them feel worse (same thing happening again) but your own wellbeing is important. This is something to work through with them so you are not taking on unfair strain.

RECOGNISING CHANGE IN BEHAVIOUR

Recognising problems can be any form of a change of behaviour. Someone who is quieter than normal, or potentially more talkative. Could also be more fidgety, irritable, on edge.
This could be online or in general.

If someone is quiet in a social group then it might be that they feel excluded from the conversation, it might also be that they are struggling with anxiety and fear saying something in case of looking stupid. It might even be there’s something independent on their mind which is distracting.
It can be a case of second guessing – but you can ask a direct question, “What do you think on this?” to try to encourage them to participate – or asking them a question on something you know they’ll be comfortable talking about.

It might be the topic is one you KNOW they can’t contribute to and that’s something to be mindful of.
You can always try to form a smaller breakaway group to talk with them if you think they’re struggling with a larger group – but be cautious they may feel guilty if they feel you are taking them from the group.
If it’s a one-on-one situation and someone seems wrong, again keeping the questions open and encouraging without pressuring.

PANIC ATTACKS

Someone may tell you they are having a panic attack or struggling with high anxiety, or they might struggle to get this message out. It may be that they seem excessively agitated, having trouble breathing, possibly seeming red and frustrated.

So. What to do if you recognise someone is having a panic attack.
Keep calm. You also panicking will make them worse.
Let them know you are there if you need them.
Encourage them to breath slowly and deeply.
Encourage them to sit somewhere quietly until they feel better.

Opening a window or taking them to somewhere with fresh air might help. Letting them know you are there for them. They may feel guilty for having a panic attack especially if it’s broken a session or taken you out of a social situation you were enjoying, so it’s important you don’t let them feel this way.

FIND MORE INFO

These are just some of the extra resources for helping friends/family which is very applicable

Supporting Someone with Mental Health

Anxiety and Panic Attacks for Friends and Family