Today is World Mental Health Day.
For people who live and cope with mental illness, thinking about mental health is not limited to one day a year. People with mental illness must try to conduct a normal life, often hold down a job and support a family, while navigating their illness and all the symptoms it brings with it.
Although in recent years awareness about mental health issues has been growing, some people who find themselves in trouble still don’t speak up because they are afraid they may be stigmatised, misunderstood, or judged.
We must work to demolish that stigma and provide help for people who need it.
One in four people face mental illness each year. This means it is highly likely that you or someone you know may need help and support in the future. We must ensure that people with mental illness are treated with dignity and respect.
Here are 5 things you can do to help people who struggle with mental illness each day.
Dedicate time to learning about mental health, mental illness, treatment, and support. Understand the differences between anxiety and depression, neurosis and psychosis, and the various treatments available – from talking therapies to drugs. Charities like Mind provide plenty of relevant information. It is also helpful to listen to the experiences of people who have suffered or are suffering from mental health problems and try to understand the way their illness has changed their lives.
Ableism is a form of discrimination against people with a disability. Although many of us do not intend to be offensive with our language, ableist terms are unfortunately embedded in our vocabulary. Think about phrases like “That’s crazy” or “That person is mental” or “So and so is a psycho” and how they may affect people who are suffering from mental illness. Think about what you are saying and whether your words contain unintended prejudices.
If someone has approached you and expressed a desire to talk about their problems, make sure you understand the importance of empathy. Unlike sympathy (wherein you express pity for a person), empathy happens when you make a decision to be in the moment with that person, no matter how difficult it is, without trying to drag them out of that moment. Resist the urge to make that person see “the bright side” or to make the conversation about yourself. Do not give advice unless you are asked for it. Just listen. Sometimes, a problem is alleviated just by the very act of talking. For a great explanation about empathy, watch this video by psychologist and writer Brené Brown.
Ask how you can help
If you have been entrusted with a problem and you don’t know how to help, don’t be afraid to say so! It is better to be honest and say “I’m not sure what to say. Is there anything I can do to help you?” Some people might need help but be too afraid to ask for it.
Volunteer your time
If you have free time and you would like to help people with mental illness, you can contact your local mental health charity and volunteer your time or resources. As well as contributing to your community, you will meet many people from different walks of life who are all interested in helping out. You may even make a new group of friends – win/win situation!
People with mental illness often feel alienated and misunderstood when they do not receive the care they deserve, and this only serves to worsen the problem. It is only by working together in our communities that we can fight against stigma and start to provide fast and universal access to support and treatment.