May is Mental Health Awareness Month
Not everyone who seeks counseling is mentally ill, but many people who do not seek counseling are. We currently live in a culture where three out of four people with a mental illness report that they have experienced stigma. Stigma is a mark of disgrace that sets a person apart. When a person is labelled by their illness they are seen as part of a stereotyped group. Negative attitudes create prejudice which leads to negative actions and discrimination. We all have a role in creating a mentally healthy community that supports recovery and social inclusion and reduces discrimination, here is an opportunity to learn and share the facts about mental health and illness.
- People with mental illness are not stupid or lazy. Some of the most intelligent and most accomplished people in the world have suffered from mental illness.
- People with mental illness don’t want your pity or to be condescended to. First and foremost, people with mental illness want and deserve to be treated with respect. Take your cues from them. Be patient. They can’t always get their thoughts out quickly, but by being patient and not rushing or cutting them off shows respect, treats them with dignity, and re-enforces their value as people.
- Mental illness is not a personal failing. Most mental illness is caused by some sort of hormonal mix-up (yep, that’s a medical phrase). Yes, there are things we can do to ward off mental illness, but we cannot control it completely. Mental illness isn’t caught like the flu; you can’t get it by associating with someone who is mentally ill. It is, however, genetic. That means that if mental illness runs in your family, you need to be aware of it, understand your pre-disposal, and act accordingly. Mental illness is no one’s “fault” and in no way makes the person with mental illness less worthy of love.
- Mental illness isn’t necessarily permanent. A person who suffers from depression or anxiety (or other mental illnesses) may be suffering from situational depression or anxiety. Through treatment, many people who suffer from mental illness can recover completely.
- The best way you can help someone with mental illness is to listen. Listen. Don’t judge. Don’t say things like “you’re just crazy” or “I simply can’t handle being your friend because you suffer from mental illness.”
- Getting help for mental illness is not shameful. It’s a sign of strength. If you know someone who needs help, be encouraging to them. You would never tell someone with cancer not to seek help. Why would you suggest to someone suffering from anxiety, depression, or any other mental illness that it’s bad to get help or make fun of them for doing seeking help?
- There are many different types of treatment for mental illness. Sometimes hospitalization is required, but most treatments for mental illness are done on an out-patient basis, working with a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, or Licensed Psychologist (collectively “therapist”).
- Taking medication is not a sign of failure. Depending on the illness and the severity of it, medication can be incredibly helpful. Yes, there can be non-medication solutions for the long-term, but medication can also help to get a person regulated in order to them move them to more natural or non-medication solutions. No treatment for mental illness, whether talk therapy or medication, works immediately. It all takes time and medications may need to be adjusted, either by changing dosages or changing the medication, in order to find just the right mix for you.
- Caregivers need support too.
- If you’re a caregiver, you can’t be fully effective unless you’re taking care of you. Seek out counseling, you may not suffer from mental illness but you need to reach out to someone who can understand the situation you are in, and possibly advise you. Most importantly, however, you need to eat right, exercise, sleep, and whatever helps you feel centered.