7 Ways to Become a Mental Health Ally

On average 1 in 5 American adults will suffer from mental illness every year, but with global events like the pandemic, this number is certain to grow. In the past, some people may have believed that mental health was only an issue for those suffering from mental illness, but in reality, everyone will face difficult situations that challenge their mental health. 

Whether you suffer from mental illness or know someone who is dealing with their own, the bottom line is that mental health is for everyone. Here’s how you can advocate for mental health well beyond Mental Health Month and help normalize the conversation so people can get the help they need faster and easier. 

What does it mean to be an ally? 

Stereotypes and misinformation about mental illness prevent some people from seeking help for treatable problems. However, allies can create safe spaces where people feel comfortable discussing their mental health, seeking treatment, and sharing their stories with others. Luckily, there are many ways you can become an ally and advocate for mental health in your community. 

1. Educate yourself and others

Fear of mental illness often stems from a lack of education and understanding. A common misconception thinks of mental illnesses as one thing, when in fact different disorders and illnesses can vary in severity and symptoms, which makes treatment methods very different. Do your own research to better understand the basis of some of these conditions by checking out reliable resources such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness  (NAMI)  National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and World Health Organization (WHO).

2. Ask how you can help.

When someone is struggling with a mental health issue, it can be difficult to seek help. Remove one obstacle by reaching out and starting a conversation yourself. Additionally, treatment looks different for each person depending on their personality, mental illness, and unique needs. If you ask how you can help, make sure you have what it takes to help someone in a way that is particularly beneficial to them. 

3. Listen with empathy. 

Another common reason why people avoid disclosing their mental health problems is because they are afraid of judgment and discrimination. Understand that talking about a medical condition can feel incredibly vulnerable and nerve-wracking to someone. Let your loved ones know their voices are heard by listening carefully, not interrupting, and recognizing that their mental illness does not define them. You can show empathy by putting yourself in their shoes and responding the way you would want someone to respond to you if you shared something difficult and personal. 

4. Be careful with your words

You will never know what someone is going through just by looking at them. Being a mental health ally means being aware of your language and word choice in a variety of situations and conversations, not just among people you know suffer from mental illness. For example, calling someone “crazy” does not denote mental illness and invalidates the experiences of people who have lived with mental illness. If you often call things or people “crazy” or “mad,” you might want to check out this list of alternative adjectives.

5. Take care of your mental health seriously

Unfortunately, mental health issues are often not taken as seriously as physical health issues. However, just as you would see a doctor if you’ve had a persistent cough for several weeks, you should take your mental health seriously and see a specialist if you’re experiencing persistent changes in your mental health. Don’t sweep your mental well-being under the rug or chalk things up to “just a bad day.” By promoting your own mental health and seeking mental health treatment from Phoenix teen IOP when you need it, you help normalize the topic and motivate others to do the same. 

6. Share your story

Awareness and visibility are important components to make mental health accessible to everyone. Whole numbers and statistics can be great evidence, there is nothing more powerful than someone’s personal story. By sharing your life experiences, whether it’s a serious, lifelong mental illness or a daily struggle with anxiety, you open the door for people to see themselves in your story and feel less alone. 

7. Join 

Mental health is everyone’s concern, which means you can get involved  on every level. From talking at home about how mental health is portrayed on TV shows, to writing letters to your representatives, and advocating for policy changes at the government level, there is a lot you can do to break down barriers.

Living with a mental illness can be difficult, but getting treatment and seeking support from others is not necessary. Mental illness can affect anyone, regardless of age, race, social class, income or background, and there are many steps you can take to help reduce stigma and discrimination in your community. 

May is a great starting point for raising mental health awareness, but you can be an ally all year long. At Modern Recovery Arizona, we strive to combat stigma and overcome barriers year-round. To join us in promoting mental health awareness and accessibility, check out treatment  opportunities to stay fit and healthy with Phoenix IOP for teens, activities and efforts to create a healthier and happy community.

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