It's Mental Health Awareness Month! To help spread the word and support further awareness of the importance of mental health, I have compiled a list of 5 things that you can do to get involved.
Did you know that 1 in 3 people will experience a psychiatric disorder in their lifetimes (Kessler et al., 2004)? Just think about that...
Close your eyes for a moment and think of every single person you know in your life; your family members, friends, colleagues, neighbors, community members, etc. Now imagine you could line all of these people up side by side. See yourself standing before this line of all the people you know. See their faces, recall memories with them, allow yourself to really see them. Now imagine that you move through this line from the beginning and all the way to the end, counting every third person. Recognizing that every third person is likely struggling with mental illness, and maybe even suicidal ideation.
Imagine the magnitude of this. Be it directly or indirectly, we are all affected.
In order to help erase the stigma of mental illness, it is important for us to get talking about how we are all affected, by making mental illness known, and reducing fears or cultural beliefs that get in the way of effective treatment options and resources. If you are currently struggling with mental illness, please share and seek support. The sharing processes may be scary and difficult, but is very powerful and an important step towards healing.
If you have struggled with mental illness in the past and are no longer experiencing problematic symptoms and behaviors, please still share. Share about your experience. What was mental illness like for you and what helped you along your journey?
You can share your personal story in a variety of ways. Try writing a letter, poem, or song, making a video, creating a blog, putting together a collage of photos, using art, drawing, painting, or some other creative outlet. Maybe you will just sit down with a friend and open up to them about your experience.
When you share, make sure to do it in a way that supports safety. Do not share your story with others who are not supportive or do not deserve to hear your story. Select your audience wisely, choosing only close loved ones whom you trust and can hold space for your share your vulnerability.
"Our stories are not meant for everyone. Hearing them is a privilege, and we should always ask ourselves this before we share: "Who has earned the right to hear my story.?"" - Brene Brown
One major barrier around the stigma of mental illness, is that those seeking support are unable to find it. They may feel they don't have anyone to turn to or fear that the response from loved ones will be unhelpful and even harmful. Unfortunately, these individuals are often correct in their assumptions that certain others will not be able to offer appropriate support.
We must do better to offer support that is safe.
Start by creating a safe Holding Space, by being fully present, willing to hear and listen, and providing unconditional positive regard to the one who shares.
“We are willing to walk alongside another in whatever journey they’re on, without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome.” - Heather Plett
You can do this by remaining calm, having a non-judgmental attitude, demonstrating empathy for the other's experiences, and offering support or encouragement as needed.
Lastly, be willing to suspend your desire to 'fix' or provide a solution to the other. Instead, just simply listen. If the other asks for further help, you can link them to an appropriate resource or assist them in making an appointment with a professional.
Just as you brush your teeth, take vitamins, avoid too many sweets or alcohol, exercise, etc. for physical health, you also need to engage in a daily practice that addresses mental health.
You can think of this as a self-care practice.
Self-care is vital to mental health and developing a greater sense of well-being.
Your self-care practice should include activities that are restorative, cathartic, and generally fill you up with a sense of peace or brings something greater to your life.
Each and every day you need to engage in some activity that supports self-care. Try setting time to unplug from technology, sit in stillness, connect to your 5 senses, get out into nature, journal or write, cultivate gratitude, give back to others or the community. You can get creative here. Take these guidelines and develop a practice that works for you.
Let’s get resourceful! Act by engaging in your community and finding local resources to support mental health.
Check out your local National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which is a wealth of information for mental health education, support, and resources all over the county.
Take a mental health screening exam at Mental Health America to find out if you are experiencing symptoms of a mental illness.
Really there is a wealth of information out there!
After checking out the above educational resources, try getting active in one of the following organizations, that offer creative alternatives to spreading the word about mental health: