It’s Mental Illness Awareness Week in Canada and for this article, I’ll be sharing my top ten list of things we can all do to increase mental health awareness in 2019. These are things anyone can do and they take no time or money to implement.
When it comes to raising awareness for mental illness, it’s the little things we do that make a big difference in people’s lives.
Here are some ways you can raise awareness for mental illness:
1. Parents, support your child’s psychological needs.
And, don’t act as if your child needing medication of psychological help (or both) is a weakness. When a person takes these steps, it takes courage. Be there for them instead of treating them as if they are a burden.
2. Don’t be afraid to speak up against stigma.
Speak up and don’t feel bad for doing so because you deserve to be treated with respect.
3. Learn from your biases instead of confirming them.
Ensure you are getting your information from reliable sources. A few examples of not so reliable sources are celebrities, social media, and pseudoscientific types such as health gurus. Also, remember to listen to all sides; don’t look only at things that reinforce your own beliefs.
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4. Use proper language.
Remember, that saying things such as “everyone is a little ADHD” or think that being sad is the same as having clinical depression. Doing this can belittle the experiences of people who are diagnosed with mental illness. It can also make them feel shame and embarrassment.
5. Advocate for professional support.
Instead of giving unsolicited advice, advocate the value of professional help (such as doctors, therapists, and psychiatrists). Remember, just because you know someone with mental illness doesn’t mean you know more than a professional does. Regardless of how much you think you may think you know, unless you have the qualifications, you’re not qualified to be giving out diagnosis or advice.
6. Don’t feel shame (or shame another person) for taking medication.
Medication has helped millions of people to live a healthy, well-balanced life. Taking medication doesn’t make you a weak person; it makes you a person taking something to improve your life.
7. Be respectful to those living with mental illness.
Instead of saying things like “that person is a snowflake” or calling them demeaning things like “attention-seeking,” try to be respectful about the things they have overcome. Don’t act as if mental illness is a character flaw or a punchline in a joke because it’s not! Adding judgement to a person’s struggles will only make things worse, not better.
8. Take Mental Illness seriously at work.
Many workplaces don’t take mental health as seriously as they should. I think the least ignorant thing a boss said to me was, “ADHD is just an excuse; if this conversation happens again you’re fired!” Workplaces need to have a zero-tolerance policy towards managers and employees who discriminate against mental illness. They also need to do things to meet the needs of all their employees and offer things such as mental health first aid or sensitivity training for staff.
9. Be wary of social media groups.
Stay far away from social media groups that promote pseudoscientific beliefs because they are a hive for misinformation and ignorance.
10. Walk the walk (all year long)!
Last but not least, practice what you preach! Support and advocate mental health online and in real life. Even though awareness events for mental illness and suicide prevention are great for spreading the word, remember there are people who live with mental illness every day of their lives, not just during certain days or weeks. So, spread awareness and be mindful of your beliefs, attitudes, behaviour every day of the year.
“One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls. Not unlike a tour of Afghanistan (though the bombs and bullets, in this case, come from the inside). At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of. They should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication.”
-Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking
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