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Supporting People With Mental Illness Is Everyone's Business

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Recently, I was wondering about all the different reasons so many people keep silent or feel uncomfortable talking about their mental health.

For those living with mental illness, being silent might be a defense against being outed. It might be because they can’t find a way to express what’s going on in their head. They might feel like they’re the only one in the world facing this experience. Maybe if they explain, they’ll feel like a freak or be labeled a freak, so they choose to remain silent. They might not want to scare or burden their friends and family. They might be afraid of what other people will think or say about them once what’s going on in their head becomes public. These are but a few of the thoughts, feelings and circumstances that can have people living with mental illness be, at best, reluctant to seek the help they deserve.

And then there’s the flip side…

In speaking openly and comfortably about mind health matters, I’ve noticed there are also many concerns colleagues, friends and loved ones have about offering help or support. Some people don’t think it’s their business. Others hope or expect that someone else will take care if it — “It’s not my responsibility.” Some don’t know what to say. For many people they don’t feel equipped to step in and help. Others are concerned about making things worse. And then there is a genuine concern about how an offer of help or support might be accepted.

What can you do to help?

Supporting those with mind health challenges or mental illness to access appropriate help is everyone’s business: yours, mine and ours. The assumption that someone else will help at best may result in delayed treatment; at worst, a loss of life.

Talking about a person’s challenges or suicidal thoughts will not make things worse. I’ve found just having someone to listen, without judgement, to concerns and dark secrets can be a turning point in either getting treatment or the effectiveness of  treatment. Sometimes, especially early on, a person may not be aware of what is happening for them. They may be in denial of the seriousness of their situation and their need for help. As the cliché goes: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” If they choose not to drink, keep on offering the water.

It’s better to have your offer of support rejected than to never make the offer at all.

Why? Because your mind health matters.

To see more from Jacqui, visit Mind Mission

Originally published: March 2, 2016
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