Living with mental illness can be hard, even unbearable at times, but the stigma that surrounds mental illness can cause those who are suffering to isolate themselves, refuse to seek treatment, and to believe that things will never improve for them.
We all want better than this for the ones that we love and the people in our communities.
No one deserves to suffer in silence, especially when their suffering is exacerbated by misinformation about their situation.
Mental health illness can feel scary and unwieldy, but scary things curiously lose their power over us when we find the words to talk about them.
We can overcome the stigma surrounding mental health illness by spreading awareness of the myths and facts about mental health and speaking out in our communities.
Here's some advice from Awareness Avenue.
Keep the conversation going
Just as the semicolon means the sentence is not over, the conversation about mental health is not over.
The best way to reduce stigma about mental health illness is to have direct conversations with the people who are affected by them.
If you also suffer or have suffered from mental illness and can relate to them about it, let them know!
Tell them that no matter how they feel, they are not alone in this. No one likes when people worry or fret about them, so remember to keep the conversation about the other person and what they need, and not just what you think they need.
Ask them what you can do for them. Surprise them with a mental health awareness ring to let them know that they were on your mind, because its nice to know that people are thinking of you even when you’re not around.
Talk with everyone you know about mental health illness. Social media is a good way to expand the impact of your discussions.
Be open about your struggles and the harm caused by mental health falsities in a public setting. This way, you can create a safe space for individuals suffering in silence.
Maybe you think that your social media presence is not very big and would not make a significant impact, but you never know who among your friends and family might be harboring a secret about their mental health and your words will reach them in unexpected ways.
No matter the size of your influence, you can make yourself and your online presence a resource. You really can never know who will need it.
Include the kids
Remember to include children in your conversations. Just because mental health is a big, difficult topic does not mean that young people are not ready to talk about it.
Remember that adolescence is a difficult time for everyone, but some children are more high-risk for mental health illness because certain illnesses have their onset in adolescence.
All children need to be loved and have the confidence in themselves to say I Am Enough.
Increasing awareness of mental health illness means improving mental health literacy, that is, how we recognize, understand, and talk about mental health illness. Improving mental health literacy among children reduces bullying and places emphasis on the importance of mental health in the larger picture of health including diet, nutrition, exercise, and medicine.
Talking with children about mental health during these developmental times give them the foundation for a well-adjusted adulthood.
Five Signs of Emotional Suffering
Increasing mental health literacy helps spread awareness and quash myths, and we must also be open about the signs of mental health illness that we should look for in our friends, families, and ourselves.
The Campaign to Change Direction has come up with a list of five signs of mental health illness to look for in a loved one.
Personality changes. They may be sudden or gradual, but the person begins behaving in a way that is misaligned with their values, or they just might seem “off.” Trust your gut and reach out to them, as this can be an early sign that things are not going well for them. The earlier you reach out, the more pain you can help alleviate.
Agitation. People who are suffering with mental illness may come off as uncharacteristically angry, anxious, agitated, or just moody. They get riled up easily and are hard to calm down. Their anger has a short fuse and they can explode at a minor problem.
Withdrawal or isolation from others. This is different from being an introvert or becoming introspective. This looks like people who were previously very social now being disengaged from conversations and spending less time with family and friends. They no longer participate in activities that once brought them joy. For children, withdrawal may result in their grades at school dropping.
Poor self-care. When someone is suffering, their personal hygiene takes a backseat. More than that, they might start engaging in risky behavior like abusing drugs and alcohol, or other self-destructive activities that serve to numb their pain but alienate their loved ones. It can be hard to support someone who has such poor judgment or is lashing out, but it is important to remember that they are acting out of a place of pain and that they still need love and understanding.
Feelings of hopelessness. If someone you love is expressing feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, prolonged grief, or misplaced guilt, they need immediate help. People who feel this way may also say things to suggest that the people they love would be better off without them, which can lead to suicidal thoughts and actions.
Thinking of You
September is National Suicide Prevention month. By helping to spread awareness of mental health illness, you can replace the five warning signs of emotional suffering with the five key elements that truly matter.
Give a ring to a friend. Give a necklace to your child. They will feel your support upon receiving it and will think of you and the kindness you showed them when they look at it later. The more jewelry out in the world, glittering on Instagram and showing up on Facebook feeds, the more people will be talking. It truly is the little things that matter. You never know what small act of kindness could save a life.