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4 Ways to Make the World a Little Kinder for People With Mental Illness

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I’m going to start off by being completely honest: for a while, I didn’t believe mental illness could be real – I thought positive thinking was the solution to everything. I considered myself happy and assumed people could just make a choice to feel a certain way.

But eventually I would learn I was wrong, and thinking that way actually causes harm.

Depression and anxiety are not illnesses I thought would ever be part of my life. Little did I know, they were following me closely as I grew up; the days became darker and the light was more challenging to find. It wasn’t until years of health issues got to me I realized I wasn’t doing well emotionally. Sadness overwhelmed me and my body no longer felt like mine. Decisions like what to eat or what clothes to wear became painful tasks that required all my energy. Being around too many people terrified me.

Sounds and smells triggered horrible memories, and nightmares left me with many sleepless nights.

I didn’t reach out for help until I began having sudden urges to hurt myself or to end my life. I was embarrassed, felt like I was letting everyone down and I was terrified of how people might react. These feelings are all too common when dealing with mental illness. Stigma is a dangerous thing in more ways than one. It leads to silence when inside people are screaming, which is a huge barrier to getting help.

Mental illness is something I’m sure has touched all of our lives in one way or another. Whether it’s a family member, friend, neighbor, colleague or yourself. I’ve learned that one out of every five people will experience a mental illness, but five out of every five people have mental health, so it’s something that concerns us all. It can be a challenging thing to understand, but it’s even harder to live with it in a world that doesn’t understand. Each day is spent existing or surviving, wishing and hoping to truly live a fulfilling and purposeful life. Everybody deserves that, and with a few small changes in our day to day lives, we can help make it happen.

Here are a four easy ways to make the world a little kinder for everyone:

1. Use inclusive language.

Maybe you’ve heard it before, but mental illnesses are not adjectives. Describing unusual things as “crazy” or saying your “OCD is acting up” when you need to clean your room are just a few examples. By intentionally choosing different words, we can make a big impact. After all, there are more accurate words that can be used to describe things.

2. Practice empathy instead of sympathy.

Feeling connected is something everyone benefits from, and it can play a huge role in surviving mental illness. Did you know there’s a difference between sympathy and empathy, and that one of these can lead to better connections between people? In some cases sympathy might make sense, but it also creates a disconnect between people. Empathy is different because it brings people together, creating that feeling of connectedness we all need. This video does a great job explaining the difference:

3. Random acts of kindness.

You never know what’s going on in someone else’s life or how a small act can make or break their day. It can be as simple as smiling at everyone you pass while walking down the street, handing out flowers to strangers or doing something bold to spread a positive message.

4. Storytelling.

I’m a strong believer in the power of telling stories. It’s probably one of the most impactful ways to educate others. I want to encourage everyone to share their story when they’re ready – whether that’s through art, music, writing, acting, speaking to a crowd or speaking to one other person – whatever works for you. And please, open your hearts to hearing stories and appreciate the courage it takes to share.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: February 29, 2016
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