Whether or not you’re personally dealing with mental health concerns, it is still an issue that affects so many of us in different ways. From our family and friends, to our neighbours, co-workers, and other acquaintances, chances are that you may know more than one person who is struggling.
But they don’t have to struggle alone; by being a mental health ally, you can make a real difference by being supportive and empathetic. Often, the notion of offering support may seem like a big responsibility, but you’d be surprised at how you can help by simply learning, listening, and lending your time to someone in need. Here are some helpful tips to get you started.
Learn About Mental Health
This may be daunting at first – especially considering the sheer amount of information available on the subject. A great place to begin is with online resources; from CAMH, to the National Network for Mental Health, and the Mental Health Commission there is plenty of information that will help you understand the struggles that some people face – not to mention the many of the misconceptions and stereotypes out there. Once you’ve started learning, you’ll be well on your way to knowing what others are going through.
Be the Conversation Starter
It’s not exactly the greatest ice-breaker at a party, but letting others know that you’re open to having a chat about mental health can really help to open lines of communication with someone who may be hesitant to do so. This can be as simple as saying “I believe that we should all be comfortable talking about mental health – don’t you?”
By letting them know that you’re interested in learning, you can be a supportive mental health advocate who offers something incredibly valuable: an open mind.
One of the most difficult challenges about suffering from a mental health concern is that it can be an isolating experience. The intense feelings that come with anxiety and depression, as an example, can be hard to understand if you’ve never experienced them yourself.
Through empathy, you can let the person know that, even though their situation is unique, you also understand how difficult it must be for them. Your empathy can also go a long way in helping to build trust, and to showing them that there are plenty of people out there who will not judge or jump to conclusions.
Watch What You Say
Unfortunately, there are many common words and sayings that could act as triggers for someone struggling with a mental health concern. Whenever we say someone is acting “crazy” or is “completely nuts,” it might compound the feelings of isolation that an individual has, which may inevitably add to the general stigma around mental health concerns.
Likewise, improperly-used terminology such as “I’m so OCD,” or “she was acting totally schizo,” can also be hurtful and insensitive.
Support Them Indefinitely
There is a spectrum of recovery; it takes plenty of hard work on the part of the individual, along with helpful support and empathy from advocates just like you.
And by letting them know that you’re in it for the long haul, you can reassure them that you’re equally focused on their well-being, self-confidence, and their recovery – no matter how long it takes.
Sometimes it’s as simple as this: letting a struggling individual know that you’re there to listen whenever they need you. No judgments; no impatience – just be someone willing to listen.
After all, experiencing a mental health concern can be a very scary thing. By having the opportunity to open up, share their worries, hopes, and fears, and just vent (and who doesn’t need a good vent once in a while?!), they’ll feel unburdened and supported.
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By offering your time, emotional support, and empathy to someone struggling with a mental health concern, you can not only help them; you can help contribute to a bigger conversation concerning stigma, stereotypes, and the overall importance of discussing everyone’s mental well-being – it’s what real, compassionate advocacy is all about!
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