On average, 1 in 5 American adults will experience a mental illness each year, but with global events like the pandemic, these numbers are sure to increase. In the past, some people might have believed that mental health was only a concern for those with mental illnesses, but the reality is that everyone will face difficult situations that challenge their mental health.
Whether you’re experiencing a mental illness yourself or know someone who’s working through their own challenges, the bottom line is that mental health is for everyone. Awareness, accessibility, and allyship are all community issues. Here’s how you can advocate for mental health well past Mental Health Month and help to normalize the conversation so people can get the help they need more quickly and easily.
What Does It Mean to Be an Ally?
Fighting stigma is all about supporting the mental health community. Stereotypes and misinformation about mental illnesses have made it difficult for some people to seek help for treatable issues. However, allies can create safe spaces where people feel comfortable discussing their mental state, seeking treatment, and sharing their stories with others. Luckily, there are plenty of ways you can be an ally and advocate for mental health in your community.
1. Educate Yourself and Others
Fear of mental illness is often rooted in a lack of education and understanding. A common misconception is thinking of mental illness as one thing, when in actuality, different disorders and illnesses can range in severity and symptoms, making treatment methods very different. Conduct your own research to better understand the basics of some of these conditions by checking out trusted resources like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and the World Health Organization (WHO).
2. Ask How You Can Help
When someone is struggling with a mental health problem, it can be difficult for them to ask for help. Eliminate one barrier by reaching out and starting the conversation yourself. A simple question like, “I noticed you’ve been having a hard time lately; what can I do to help?” can create a safe space for someone to talk about their problem and get assistance without needing to seek it out. Additionally, treatment looks different for every person based on their personality, mental illness, and unique needs. Asking how you can help ensures that you’re equipped to assist someone in a way that will be beneficial to them specifically.
3. Listen with Empathy
Another common reason why people avoid disclosing their mental health issues is because they are afraid of judgment and discrimination. Understand that talking about a condition might feel incredibly vulnerable and nerve-wracking for someone else. Let your loved ones know that their voices are being heard by listening closely, not interrupting, and acknowledging that they are not defined by their mental illness. You can show empathy by trying to put yourself in their position and respond in the way that you would want someone to respond to you if you were sharing something difficult and private.
4. Be Mindful of Your Words
You never know what someone is going through just by looking at them. Being a mental health ally means being conscious of your language and word choice in a variety of situations and conversations, not just around people who you know have a mental illness. For example, calling someone ‘insane’ makes light of mental illness and devalues the experiences of people who have lived with mental illnesses. If you find yourself frequently describing things or people as ‘crazy’ or ‘insane,’ you might want to check out this list of alternative adjectives.
5. Take Care of Your Own Mental Health
Unfortunately, mental health problems are frequently not taken as seriously as physical health problems. However, just as you would go to the doctor if you had a persistent cough for a couple of weeks, you should take your mental health seriously and visit a professional if you’re experiencing persistent changes in your mental health. Don’t brush your mental wellness under the rug or write things off as ‘just a bad day.’ By advocating for your own mental health and seeking treatment when you need it, you help to normalize the topic and motivate others to do the same.
6. Share Your Story
Awareness and visibility are essential components to making mental health an approachable subject for everyone. While numbers and statistics can be great pieces of evidence, nothing is quite as powerful as someone’s personal story. By sharing your lived experience, whether it’s with a serious lifelong mental illness or your daily struggles with anxiety, you open the door for people to see themselves in your story and feel less alone.
7. Get Involved
Mental health is everyone’s concern, which means you can get involved at every level. From engaging in conversations at home about how mental health is portrayed on a TV show to writing your representatives and advocating for policy changes at the government level, there’s plenty you can do to break down barriers. If you want to stay up-to-date on legislation and issues surrounding mental health in Colorado, check out ways to get involved with Jefferson Center’s Policy Action Network (PAN).
Living with a mental illness can be difficult, but getting treatment and finding support from others doesn’t have to be. Mental illness can affect anyone, regardless of age, race, social class, income, or background and there are plenty of steps you can take to help reduce stigma and discrimination in your community. Even the smallest actions can have a major impact.
The month of May is a great starting point for raising awareness about mental health, but you can be an ally all year long. At Jefferson Center, we’re dedicated to fighting stigma and breaking down barriers year-round. To join us in promoting mental health awareness and accessibility, check out our volunteer opportunities, donate to our programs, and sign up for our monthly newsletter to stay up to date with events, classes, and Jefferson Center’s actions toward cultivating a healthier, happier community.
If you are in a crisis, please call us at 303-425-0300 or by calling the crisis line at 844-493-8255. The 24/7 crisis walk-in center and withdrawal management program is open at 4643 Wadsworth Blvd, Wheat Ridge, CO 80033.
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