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How You Can Personally Do Your Part to Help Normalize Mental Illness

I saw a meme on Facebook that recently struck a chord with me. It said:

“Normalize Mental Illness.
Normalize Therapy.
Normalize Medication.”

One of my goals in talking about my mental health has always been to reduce and ultimately banish the stigma surrounding mental illness. We’ve come a long way in the last 15 years since I was diagnosed with major depression and further still since I was diagnosed with anxiety and panic disorder. But we still have a long way to go.

One thing I saw someone express recently is that we’re often OK when other body parts breaks down. Break a leg and everyone often rushes in to sign the cast. Have another type of condition and well-wishers will often send cards, stuffed animals and express prayers and good thoughts. But when it comes to mental illness, people often can’t get away fast enough.

Mental illness scares many people. I’m not sure if it’s because they’re afraid they’ll become tainted by association, because they don’t know what to say or something else entirely. But the fact remains, when you hit a low with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or any of a dozen other mental illnesses, suddenly there’s no one around.

Here’s the funny thing: the way to interact with someone with a mental illness is often the same as it is with any other illness. Here’s a list of things you can do that are helpful:

  • Ask, “How are you doing?”
  • Ask, “How can I help?”
  • Send a card expressing your good wishes and prayers so we know we’re being thought of.
  • Go ahead and send that stuffie. It’ll give us something to cuddle.
  • Stop in for a visit but call ahead first to make sure it’s OK. Sometimes, all we need is to know that people care.
  • Give hugs. Many of us love hugs when we’re in the dark.
  • Tell us it’s going to be alright. We need that reminder.
  • Support us. Cheerlead for us. Be an advocate and be there for us because mental illness is painfully lonely.

Ultimately, many of us don’t need or ask for much. In fact, a lot of people with mental illness don’t ask for anything at all because we don’t want to burden those around us. So if you take the time to go out of your way to be there for us, it means more than you can possibly imagine.

Those who struggle with mental illness are so used to being shunned, to being outcasts, that when someone recognizes us, validates us and refuses to judge us just because we feel bad, that’s a huge thing. It doesn’t take much to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. It just takes people who are willing to be there, to be present and to be courageous enough to face something that is scary for so many people.

Getty Images: jacoblund