The One Thing I Think We Can Do Better as Mental Health Advocates
I must write about something that has been on my mind lately. I am a mental health advocate from Australia, who works frequently advocating for borderline personality disorder, mental illness and suicide prevention. I am a proud contributor here at The Mighty. But there is something I needed to lay out on the table. Something I feel a lot of us are going a few steps backwards instead of commuting together to look forward. That is invalidating other people’s experiences.
While I am not entirely certain about the number of articles and contributors here, I know I have come across some life-changing articles. Some that really helped me view and change my perception of other people’s struggles. But alas, not everyone in society and in the mental health field has an open mind. Some only know how to validate their own experience, and the way they communicate can sometimes strip someone else of their own struggles. An example I came across lately was people belittling Katy Perry’s therapy video. Sure, my experience with therapy hasn’t been the greatest, or easily assessable. But that was Katy sharing her own experience, and if we look closely at her journey, even if I don’t agree entirely with what she says, I think if we look deeper at the message she was trying to raise, then we can all learn something and validate it.
Validating doesn’t have to mean you agree with them and drop all your beliefs and values you hold deeply to yourself. Validating is being able to listen assertively, question and challenge in a proactive manner (ask questions, don’t assume they aren’t being honest or real) and most importantly, always remember it’s their experience. You may have the same diagnosis, but you won’t ever feel exactly what they are feeling or experiencing. You will be able to relate and connect deeply in that regard. At the end of the day, we all have different mental make up. Not everyone’s experience is going to be an exact representation of another.
I think we especially need to be mindful to not invalidate someone’s experience with suicide. Whether it’s a death, ideation or hospitalization, everyone’s suicidal thoughts are valid and should not be taken lightly. Suicide ideation should not be ignored just because they aren’t dealing with how you would. The key to preventing suicide is to not make it about you. The key to prevention is listening with validation.
I have one request for the future of mental health advocates here on The Mighty, as well as others in society. We must start listening and showing our support. When someone bravely steps forward and shares their lived experience, remember it’s their experience, not yours or anyone else who may have the same diagnosis. If we listen more assertively and dig a bit deeper, we will be able to fight the epidemic together. Let’s not push people out of the strong circle we are trying to form together. Everyone’s pain and stories are valid.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.
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Thinkstock photo via Jacob Ammentorp Lund