Eliminating the Mental Health Stigma: How You Can Be A Mental Health Advocate

In the wake of Robin Williams’ heartbreaking death on Monday, August 11, the world has been buzzing with discussions about mental health issues and awareness. Crisis calls not only to local prevention centers, but to The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline have doubled since. In addition, the National Alliance on Mental Illness saw a spike in Facebook and website views. Professionals have advised the media to be mindful of how they portray the suicide of such a beloved public figure to avoid romanticizing it or causing a “suicide contagion”, says USA Today. Even though so many admired Williams and his work, we shouldn’t glamorize his actions.

When someone in our personal lives or in the public eye is affected by debilitating mental health issues, people are called to awareness and often their own struggles are brought to light. The key to saving lives and even making life easier for those living with emotional, mental, and behavioral disorders is prevention. According to mentalhealth.gov, one in five American adults has experienced a mental health issue. While three quarters of mental health disorders begin before age 24, less than 20% of young people with diagnosable conditions get the help that they need. If you know someone who is struggling or who you suspect might need help, there are many ways for you to be supportive and to let them know that you genuinely care. When you notice that a roommate, friend, or family member that you care about might need

Be a listening ear. It’s easy to feel at a loss forwords or to be nervous that you’ll say the wrong thing, but a lot of times people just need to know that someone is there. Show that you care by being that person by affirming that they made the right choice to talk about their feelings. Make the time to listen, but don’t try to give advice that you’re not sure of.

Instead, encourage seeking professional help. Although you can offer nonjudgmental support and share direct concerns as a friend, counselors are trained to effectively cope with mental health issues. Counselors understand the biological and emotional components of mental health and can offer techniques and strategies that assist those affected. That being said, you can educate yourself about mental health in order to better understand what someone you care about is going through and also to defend the facts if you hear untrue sentiments. The combination of peer and professional support is an incredibly effective strategy.

As a friend, it’s important to check in and support progress. Remember that all progress, big or small, is progress. It’s important to remember that healing a process, not an overnight ordeal. Just because someone is in counseling or receiving professional help doesn’t mean that they don’t need friends to act as an integral extension of their support system. While you don’t need to be constantly inquiring about how they’re feeling, it’s nice to let them know that you haven’t gone anywhere and that you’re still available.

No matter what, refuse to let a friend’s mental health status define them. Don’t use words like “crazy” to describe people and don’t let the person of concern use them to describe themselves. You are not your depression, your anxiety, your eating disorder. Nobody should ever be confined to a stereotype. Mental health issues don’t erase your identity or take away from the person that you are. They don’t cause a decrease in your value or a loss of the positive characteristics that you possess.

Because so many people struggle with some type of mental health issue, it’s important to constantly work to reduce stigma. Make it okay and comfortable to talk openly about these prevalent issues and to admit that the struggle exists, but also that seeking help is beyond acceptable. We can save lives by making mental health and the conversation surrounding it a priority in our daily lives. By reaching out to the people that we love and care about, we can make sure that no one ever has to face tough times alone.

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