Mental illness affects many of our family members, neighbors and co-workers, yet attitudes remain negative.…
What People With Mental Health Issues Really Need — You
College students are struggling with anxiety and depression in record numbers; suicide rates in rural communities are skyrocketing; troubled individuals continue to end up on the streets or in jail. Everywhere you turn these days, it seems, people are struggling with their mental health. If you find yourself thinking, “Someone needs to do something,” here’s good news: Someone can, and it’s you.
You’re not the entire solution, of course, but adding your voice to those calling for a more compassionate and effective response to mental health issues as well as improving your awareness makes it much more likely we’ll move beyond words to action. And the final result won’t just help those who are suffering directly, it will mean healthier, happier communities for everyone.
Here are just a few of the ways you can make a difference:
Understanding what mental illness is (and what it isn’t) is the first step toward being a positive presence. Countless government organizations and nonprofits offer easily accessible information. You’ll not only learn a lot about the realities and challenges of specific mental illnesses, you’ll learn that with treatment and support, most people can live full and productive lives.
Get involved politically.
Let leaders at every level know that it matters to you how we respond to those with mental health issues. Here are just a few of many things worth advocating for:
- Better funding of mental health services, especially those that come into the community. A person in crisis needs somewhere to turn besides the ER.
- Better training of police and first responders so that interactions with those with mental illnesses will be more effective and safer for all.
- More mental health courts, which combine judicial supervision with social services and life-skills training that help the person get back to health and good citizenship instead of cycling in and out of the prison system, which now functions as our nation’s largest mental health facility.
- Getting insurers to pay up. Mental health coverage is now an essential benefit in most insurance policies, thanks to the combined clout of the mental health parity law and the Affordable Care Act. It should mean people are at last able to get the help they need, but many insurers continue to do whatever they can to avoid living up to the letter of the law.
Get involved personally.
Consider volunteering at one of the many nonprofits that help those with mental health issues, go to a fundraiser, share their social media campaigns. Not only will you be doing your part to help improve life for others, you’ll also be aiding your own mental health. Research shows that altruism boosts well-being. It may even help you live longer.
Pay attention to the words you use.
Language matters, and “people first” terminology helps. A recent study found, for example, that the term “people with mental illness” elicited more tolerance than saying “the mentally ill.” The same holds true with specific diagnoses. Rather than say someone is bipolar or OCD, for example, it’s more accurate to say they have the illness or have been diagnosed with it. A person is more than their mental health issue, after all.
Quit separating mental and physical health.
The mind is part of the body. Thinking of mental health as somehow “other” only perpetuates the stigma surrounding it and keeps us from recognizing the ways in which they interrelate. We need to start reacting with the same matter-of-factness to treatment or hospitalization for a mental health condition as we would for a physical ailment. And that includes sending a card, making a call, offering a hug, dropping by with a casserole — all the things we generally do whenever anyone is ill.
Understand that you’re helping yourself too.
It’s estimated that 1 in 5 adults experiences a mental health issue in any given year. That means everything you do to improve services and challenge the stigma surrounding mental illness isn’t just helping others. It’s a good bet it will help you someday too.