Look to your left. Look to your right. Look behind you. Look in front of you. One of the people you just saw has been diagnosed with a mental illness– but you might not ever know. The struggle is often silent, but it’s real. The level of empathy and understanding for mental health disorders has certainly improved over the last few decades, there is still an undeniable stigma attached to mental health issues, which can create barriers for people who need help and the families who support them.
Melissa Thompson, CEO of Talksession, an online teletherapy company, believes that while politicians, physicians, and pharmaceutical companies must lead the fight with a top down approach, it is critical for each one of us to take personal responsibility to improve the situation and help promote mental wellness. Being mindful to reduce the stigma is a key factor.
Here are 10 suggestions from Thompson on how each of us can make a difference in the lives of those we love:
- Realize the numbers; mental illness affects millions:
According to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one out of four American families includes a member diagnosed with some type of mental illness. It’s also important to realize that mental illness does not discriminate based on age, race or socioeconomic status – we are all in this together.
- Toughing it out is not an option:
While many mistakenly believe that mental illnesses can be overcome with simple willpower, this is not the case. Mental illness can be a serious medical condition, and must be treated as such. If there is a problem with your knee, you are not ashamed or weak by going to an orthopedic surgeon; mental issues must evolve and be viewed in the same manner.
- Use your vote wisely and hold politicians accountable:
Vote for and fund politicians who will help end mental health disparity in our country. Seek a candidate who has those ideals. Ending stigmas surrounding mental illness will be challenging, but a feat we must proactively work to achieve.
- Integrate mental wellness into daily life:
By openly talking about mental health problems we will help others realize the scientific fact that mental health issues are medical issues – and they are not only pervasive, but they desperately need to be understood and treated.
- Get Your Own House in Order:
Mental health also starts with each individual. Take care of your own mental health by doing what you need to do to remain mentally well. If its mediation, medication or meditation, do what it takes to keep your mind healthy. Brain health is one of our most valuable assets
- Be curious about strangers:
When given the opportunity, talk to someone with whom you are not acquainted, be inquisitive, lend an ear. Who knows? You may be the only person who actually took the time to care.
- Listen. Really listen.
Think about it: When you talk to somebody, how much do you actually hear? Probably not enough. Make a conscious effort to take in what a person is saying and give them an opportunity to open up if they choose.
- Inspire change:
Empathy typically seems to happen only on an individual level. However, mass action and social changes are often inspired through great empathy. Plant seeds in the children you influence. Plant them on your social networks, too, and plant them in your friends and co-workers. You may be surprised by your influence and impact.
- Empathize without prejudice or judgment:
Instead of making “enemies” out of certain people with whom you do not agree, try understanding what is being said. Seek to find out what drives the other person.
- Educate others (kindly):
We should also kindly redirect others who may not understand the implications of a lack of empathy regarding mental illness to a level where they can learn. Just remember to try and meet people where they are at and you might be able to open someone’s eyes on an issue.
Elle Groves is a freelance reporter, writer and blogger bent on deconstructing diet culture and keeping her life full of food, fitness, family and friends. She is currently writing a novel that spans the rise and fall of a girl’s struggle with eating disorders and her DIY-recovery. Find her on Twitter @ellegrows or contact her at [email protected]