5 Ways to Support the Mental Illness Community (Even If You Don't Have a Mental Illness)
This week in Canada is Mental Illness Awareness Week. I am one in five directly affected by a mental illness (well, numerous, truth be told). Normally, I write to an audience who can identify with my struggles in being mentally ill. Today, it’s a bit different.
I want to talk to those of you who do not live with a mental illness. Even though you don’t live with one, it doesn’t mean you can totally forget about the topic. Because these illnesses are so prevalent, you can almost be guaranteed someone you care about is struggling. Maybe you don’t know who it is yet – but even so, wouldn’t you want to be able to help them if you got the chance?
There are numerous things you can do, aside from posting an awareness graphic once or twice a year.
1) Change your language.
If someone is acting what you deem is “strange” – don’t refer to them as a “schizo.” Having a hard day? Don’t joke about killing yourself. Even the word “crazy” has negative connotations to those in the community. On the same note, stand up against derogatory jokes – just as you would with sexist, racist or homophobic ones.
2) Know the emergency lines in your area. Program them in your phone in case someone is in crisis.
3) Take a Mental Health First Aid course.
These courses are just as important as other First Aid courses.
4) Take care of your own mental health.
Just because you have not yet experienced a mental illness doesn’t necessarily mean you are immune. This isn’t meant to scare anyone, but it is common. You are also more capable of helping others if you have taken care of yourself first.
5) Just be there.
You don’t need to be a psychologist to be there for someone who is in need. If someone is in a crisis, being just a physical presence as they get professional care can mean the world. For example, accompanying someone to the ER and waiting with them (even in silence!) during the unavoidable wait times is very helpful.
These are five simple(ish) ways you can help. There is of course much more you can do – including being a mental health advocate. In Canadian provinces, mental health is funded by only a small percentage of the provincial health budget. This needs to change in order for everyone who needs treatment to receive it. Additionally, all mental health services should be publicly funded. Whether you need a social worker or psychologist, it should be covered by our medical system – because mental health is a part of health!
I hope these five tips are useful to you as someone who isn’t part of the mental illness community. You can help create change without identifying in the same way as the group you are advocating with or supporting.
Getty image by Mike_Kiev