By Angela Cataldo, Student at Clemson University and BodiMojo Blog Contributor
Unexpected events and traumatic situations—such as the recent shooting in Las Vegas and other current events—often trigger emotional upset and mental health challenges. Times like this can divide us, but they can also serve as an opportunity to come together and support one another. What’s more, this week is Mental Illness Awareness Week, which aims to fight stigma, provide support, and educate the public by highlighting mental health issues and cultivating compassion and strength for improving the lives of those who are affected by mental illness.
And chances are we all know someone affected by a mental health condition. In the United States, 1 in 5 adults experiences mental illness in a given year, and 7% of adults have had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. These statistics are eye-opening—especially considering that due to the stigma surrounding mental illness, they are likely underestimated. The consequences of untreated mental illness are devastating; suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 15 – 24, and mood disorders are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the United States for both youth and adults aged 18 – 44.
This year, the focus of Mental Illness Awareness Week is “Into Mental Health: Inspired, Informed, Involved” and calls us to go beyond small talk and start real conversations about mental health. So how can we do that? Here are some helpful tips for opening the dialogue with someone experiencing a mental health issue:
Be sensitive, positive, and encouraging. By simply being available to listen, acknowledging how they feel, and asking what you can do to help, those affected by mental illness can recognize that they have a support system. You can use “I” statements, such as “I’m worried…” or “I’ve noticed…”, to alleviate any perceived blame or judgments and help them recognize how much you care about their wellbeing.
Be informed; educating yourself on current research and familiarizing yourself with the signs and symptoms of mental illness will help you to better understand what they are going through.
Be well-rounded in showing support for those experiencing mental illness. Invite them to friendly gatherings or help them with practical support, such as laundry, cooking meals, or running an errand. Most importantly, express that you are there for them—and that they matter—no matter what.
Offer compassion. Help them become calm and “ride out” an emotional wave instead of denying or suppressing it. Remind them that every emotion is temporary, and that these emotions should be treated with compassion instead of judgment. Suggest practicing mindfulness, such as meditation and breathing techniques, which are shown to improve resilience while dealing with a mental illness.
Make sure not to be dismissive with comments such as “Cheer up!” or “I’m sure it will pass,” and don’t remark that you “know how they feel” if you don’t; it could make your loved one feel worse or invalidate their experience.
If you suspect that someone needs professional help, referring him or her to a doctor or trained professional is a good place to start. Assure them that there are many resources available to help people just like them who are in need of mental health services.
If you are interested in more ways to get involved with Mental Health Awareness Week or the National Alliance on Mental Health, please visit www.nami.org.
Learn how to turn stigma about mental health into compassion | Greater Good Science Center
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