May is Mental Health Awareness Month and, in support of the 1 in 5 people suffering with mental disorders, we have composed a few tips on how to be a great mental health ally! Educating yourself on how our friends and loved ones deal with their mental health conditions provides a better understanding for you and helps the sufferer feel comfortable coming forward about their issue. While there are many ways to be great allies, we have created a few great tips to help you get started:
- Learn about mental health conditions – There are a variety of great places you can get information on mental health. Websites such as MentalHeath.gov, Mental Health America, and the National Alliance of Mental Illness provide statistics, treatment and crisis options, and show people how they can become involved in helping sufferers and reducing the stigma within their communities.
- Be ready to reach out – One of the most uncomfortable things (on both ends, really) is talking about the issue. If you feel that a friend, relative, or someone you know is acting out of character then express your concern to them. Tell them you are interested in helping them if need be and most importantly, you are there to listen.
- Remember, you’re in a no judgement zone – This should come as no surprise, but a person is crisis will not be the most receptive to criticism. Be empathetic to the person and the problem at hand regardless of fault, you must help them feel they are safe to speak with you. There is a time and place to provide constructive criticism, but the sufferer must be in place mentally and emotionally to understand and receive it.
- Take care of yourself – Helping a friend or loved one coping with the symptoms of mental illness is a long and tiresome job. During this, you must remember to take care of your own mental and physical health because your issues matter too! Just think, you will be leading by example!
- Just be there – Sometimes, a sufferer is not ready to talk. While we would love to help them overcome their problems, we must also understand that at times, there is not an apparent cause or reason for their feelings. Sometimes, a good friend is all that is needed in those moments to take their mind off things and help them through the process of emotions.
Being an ally does not mean that you get it right on the first or even the second try. It means that you are willing to keep trying even when things seem hopeless because those that feel alone will further isolate themselves due to the shame they feel. This year, let’s put a stop to that and lend a hand where we can!