Mental illness: Good days and bad days


Mike spotted me from across the shelter dining room. 

Mike is in his late 50’s.  His white hair is just beginning to bald.

He’s a big guy, much bigger than me anyways.

Mike knocked over a chair (and almost three people) to get to me.

I braced for what would come next…

“Hey, Ryan!  Did you hear the joke about the lawyer and the catfish?”

It’s ok.  Mike is having a good day.  (Exhale the breath I didn’t realize I was holding)


I’m in the shelter dining room.  It is lunch time.  Sloppy Joe’s (my favorite) and green beans (not my favorite).

Mike is in line in front of me.

I tap him on the shoulder and say, “Hey, Mike, I’m still laughing about your catfish joke.”

Mike whips around and screams, “Why are you talking to me?  I don’t even like you!”

Uh oh.  Mike is having a bad day.

I mumble an apology.  When Mike turns around, I wipe the spittle off the front of my shirt. 

Eventually I get my Sloppy Joe and green beans.

Mental Illness:  Good Days and Bad Days

Everyone has good days and bad days.

For people suffering from severe mental illness, days can be REALLY good and REALLY bad.

Without training, we often handle them completely wrong.

On Bad Days:

  • Do NOT try to get the person to seek help for their mental illness.  A person in “fight or flight” mode is not in a position to make long-term plans.
  • DO focus on setting boundaries and getting compliance with the rules.  The only real goal of the bad days is to get through them with as little damage and disruption as possible.

On Good Days:

  • Do NOT chastise or threaten the person for behavior that happened on the bad days.  It will not be effective.  You are just creating unnecessary conflict.
  • Do NOT ignore the person.  We are often so relieved that the person isn’t causing problems, we attend to other urgent matters.  We miss a fantastic opportunity, though (which is the next point).
  • DO get “pennies in the cup” that can be cashed in on the bad days.  Build a relationship on the good days so you can leverage that relationship later.
  • If it is appropriate for your profession, the good days are the time to offer assistance and long-term planning.  They will be more receptive to help on the good days.

Have a great week!


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