Mental health is one topic that no one really seems to want to talk about — but it’s a subject that should be on everyone’s mind. As many as one out of every four adults will be affected by mental illness at some point in their lives, according to the WHO. Currently, they place the number of affected adults at around 450 million.
If you’re not the one out of four, you probably know someone who is.
With that, it’s essential that you know what you should or shouldn’t do when it comes to dealing with mental illness. Here are some tips you can use:
1Start a conversation
Mental health is surrounded by a negative stigma. Because of this, no one really seems to want to talk about it, right?
That couldn’t be further from the truth, especially for individuals who have been diagnosed with a mental illness. We want to talk about our struggles and our triumphs and how we’ve overcome our obstacles.
Don’t walk up to someone and say, “Hey, do you have a mental illness?”
Not only is it rude, but it also won’t accomplish your goal of starting a conversation. Instead, ask how someone is doing. Take the time to actually listen to their response.
If you’re not sure of how to start the conversation, try getting a pin that you can wear on your purse or shirt. “Ask me about my mental illness” or “End mental health stigma” and see where the conversation takes you.
2Share your story
Sometimes, all it takes is sharing your own story, if you or a loved one is dealing with a mental illness, to spark a conversation. Just make sure your loved one is okay with you sharing his or her story.
Many of us are happy to share our stories because talking about mental health is the first step towards ending that stigma. Firsthand accounts are infinitely more effective than anything you’ll find in a textbook.
3Change your vocabulary
We all know that using the word “retarded” to describe someone who is mentally handicapped is both harmful and politically incorrect, right?
Using words like “crazy” or “insane” to describe individuals with mental illnesses can have the same effect. You don’t have to eliminate them from your lexicon entirely. Just replace them with other words when the alternatives are more pertinent in the context of the conversation.
Your boss isn’t “crazy” for punishing you for a mistake. They’re angry, frustrated, impatient or overreacting, but he’s not “crazy.”
That close sports game wasn’t “insane”; it was “intense,” “exciting” or had you on the “edge of your seat”.
Using words like “crazy” and “insane” only helps us to trivialize the impact that mental illness has on people.
4Focus on the positive
When we’re talking about mental illness, it’s easy to focus on the negative and on what is “wrong” with people. That’s a big part of the reason why the whole concept of mental illness has such a negative stigma surrounding it. That’s where positive psychology comes in.
Instead of focusing on what’s wrong with someone, positive psychology focuses on what is “right” with them. It turns the idea of traditional mental health treatment on its ear. Instead of focusing on the illness and its treatment, it focuses on the patient’s strengths and how they can use those strengths to grow and thrive in the real world.
While learning the typical symptoms of mental illness can be a great tool to help you become a mental health champion, learning how to focus on something other than the symptoms can be more to your friends or loved ones.
By using the positive, individuals with mental illness can learn how to manage the negative side of their illness. While this might not be a replacement for traditional treatment, it can be a great tool for individuals who aren’t responding to any of the typical tools or therapies used in this field.
Just because you have been diagnosed with a mental illness doesn’t mean you can’t be successful. Many famous individuals are living with mental illnesses. Recently, many of them have been much more open about their struggles.
The late Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia in the “Star Wars” movies, lived with bipolar disorder. Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys fame wrote one of his best albums after being diagnosed with schizophrenia. “Star Trek” actor Wil Wheaton recently wrote a powerful piece about living with depression.
The trick here is to use your experiences, either as an individual with a mental illness or as the loved one of someone in that situation, to thrive. If you’re dealing with mental illness, learn how to use it to your advantage. A therapist might be a useful tool here.
If you haven’t been diagnosed with a mental illness, challenge your friends or family members who have to get the help they need to thrive. Be there for them and remain supportive. When they’re ready to fly on their own, just get out of their way.
Mental illness doesn’t have to be something that’s only talked about in hushed tones. You can be a champion for mental health awareness whether you’ve been diagnosed yourself or not. We need champions to help dispel the negative cloud around mental health — once and for all.