Did you know that May is National Mental Health Month? As a therapist, I’ve worked with so many inspiring people affected by mental illness, so naturally, mental health awareness is an important subject to me.
Unfortunately, society still doesn’t fully respect mental health or give it the funding and attention it deserves. Our brains are the epicenter of our bodies, and the chemicals that run through them are just as much a part of our physiological makeup as the cells in any other organ. Our mental health affects our physical health and should be treated the same. But all too often in my line of work, I see people ashamed to face their mental health needs, or parents reluctant to bring their kids for treatment. If a child has a painful sore throat, his parents run to the pediatrician… so why isn’t a child’s emotional pain always treated as promptly?
The reason I’ve found that so many people delay or ignore their mental health is social stigma. We as a society have not fully embraced mental health, respected its equality to physical health, or risen above the prejudice against those with psychiatric diagnoses. There are a lot of wonderful groups like NAMI working tirelessly to raise mental health awareness and erase stigma, and many celebrities, like Kristen Bell, Demi Lovato, and Torrey Devitto have bravely spoken out about their own experiences to normalize mental health for others. But we have to work together to make sure their message is reached by as many as possible.
So in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I’m adding my voice to the mission. I’ve put together five simple things that most everyone can do to show support for this important movement. Here’s how you can help!
- Ending Stigma Starts With You. Language is a huge factor in any prejudice. Eliminate the slang usage of terms like “psycho” and “bipolar” from your vocabulary. These are true diagnoses of real people’s conditions and not appropriate options to insult someone with name-calling.
- Buy Brands That Support the Cause. I’ve been a huge fan of philosophy skin care for years, and have never found a facial cleanser that comes close to the incredible hydrating/cleaning balance of the line’s purity made simple one step facial cleanser! So I was thrilled when I learned that in January 2015 this awesome company began supporting mental health by donating 1% of every sale to mental health research every single day! Through its hope&grace initiative, philosophy is not only contributing to fundraising efforts but raising much-needed awareness.
- Participate in or Donate to a Fundraiser. There’s plenty of mental health non-profits which need support. Having worked for this type of organization through most of my career, I can tell you that stigma even affects people’s willingness to donate to mental health. So these non-profits really need your help. Look into some local ones you may wish to support in your community and make sure they are a legitimate 501(c)3 non-profit organization. I regularly donate to the Overnight Walks sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. These incredible walks are held from dusk to dawn in cities across the country each year, and raise awareness and funds to prevent suicide.
- Do Some Advocacy. There are many ways you can advocate for mental health awareness, both small and large. If you own or have a relationship with a local business in your town, hand out green ribbons (the mental health symbol) for customers to wear. Contact your mayor, senators, or governor to ask for proclamations recognizing mental health week, month, or stigma-free communities. If you’re active in your church or house of worship, ask the clergy to hold and advertise support groups or awareness projects for worshippers.
- Talk. Most of all, talking about mental health increases awareness. This can mean spreading the word with hashtags on social media, sharing info with friends, or talking to loved ones you’re concerned about. (Just be sure to do some research first and remember that a person who is suicidal should always be screened immediately at an ER. MentalHealth.gov has some great tips on how to start the conversation with a loved one and how to get someone help.) Opening the dialogue in any way is an important thing everyone can do to increase mental health awareness all year.
How do you support mental health awareness or end stigma? I’d love to hear your thoughts!