There are 1 in 5 adults who have a mental health condition in America. While mental health conditions are widespread throughout the United States, there is still a longstanding stigma that exists. Stigma that often stops people from getting help when they need it. Together, we can make strides to break that stigma.

Here are 4 ways that you can be an ally to the mental health community throughout the year:

1 . Educate yourself and those around you

It’s important to understand that mental illness takes its shape in many different forms. Learning more about the variety of mental health conditions, and how they can affect individuals differently, is a key part of becoming an ally.

Education is the first of many steps in breaking barriers around mental health, but an important step to start with – from here we can work together to shift the conversation around mental health.

Jefferson Center is part of the Mental Health First Aid Jeffco Collaborative, offering courses to help individuals understand and respond to signs of mental illness and substance use disorders. Find a class near you: http://www.mhfajcmh.org/

2. Listen, be patient and show empathy

Knowing what mental illness is and understanding what it is like to experience mental illness are two different things. Seeing as mental health is often an undiscussed topic with a large amount of stigma around it, individuals who experience mental health conditions may be hesitant to disclose their mental health status with others.

As an ally, you can make sure to listen carefully to understand, and always remain patient when someone is confiding in you.

3. Make your voice heard – advocate!

Our elected officials play a large role in the state of mental health within our communities. We have the opportunity to act locally, and nationally, to influence policy issues related to mental health. Learn how these organizations are leading the charge on these efforts nationwide & what you can do:

NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness
Mental Health America

Here at Jefferson Center, we have a Policy Action Network (PAN) which we created to deliver up-to-date information about legislation and issues around mental health in Colorado.

Interested in becoming an advocate for mental health with Jefferson Center? Email Lesa Moseley at LesaM@jcmh.org to get involved.

4. Share your story

Creating awareness is essential in helping to break the stigma around mental health. If you are living with mental health conditions, and are comfortable sharing your story, you too can be an ally.

When we create a community where there is comfort in sharing our stories of hardship, we build strength in collective understanding.