While mental illness is nothing new, erasing the surrounding stigma and increasing the available resources to help those in need is thankfully on the rise. Research shows that mental health is the number one cause for disability claims in Canada. Which means that mental illnesses are common — not something that should be ignored or dismissed.
If someone in your life is suffering from a mental illness, supporting them can be essential to their recovery. So here are some small but important ways to become a mental health ally.
1. Reach out via text, email or phone just to say ‘hi.’
Keeping the lines of communication open between yourself and someone dealing with mental health issues can go a long way to show them that they’re not alone. A simple message saying hello or asking how their day’s going is an easy and positive way to let them know that their illness won’t affect your relationship.
2. Support their recovery in tangible ways.
Unless you’re a medical professional, supporting a loved one during any illness can often leave you feeling useless, but there are still many ways to be supportive physically. Driving them to medical appointments, helping with groceries or errands when they’re not up to leaving the house, joining a fitness class with them or doing simple tasks around the house when they’re unable to are all ways allies can help.
3. Listen instead of giving advice.
As with any illness, people suffering from mental health issues are often scared of what their disease will do to them. While giving advice or sharing positive stories about other mental health survivors may feel like a helpful act, providing a safe place for your loved one or friend to express their fear by simply listening is one of the best ways to help.
4. Educate yourself on mental health.
When a loved one’s dealing with a mental issue, not understanding their disease or symptoms can make them scared or feel like it’s ‘all in their head.’ There are many great resources available to help explain the different aspects of mental health, though. The Centre for Addiction And Mental Health (CAMH), for example, is a great place to start learning.
5. Eliminate trigger words from your vocabulary.
“That chick is crazy!” “This guy is schizo!” “That movie was insane!” Inappropriately using terms that are associated with mental illness can belittle the disease, be triggering for a person suffering from a mental illness or hurt someone who knows someone that’s suffering from one. These words contribute to the negative stigma surrounding mental health and can prevent a person from seeking help.
6. Don’t rush their recovery.
Issues surrounding mental health don’t usually come with a ‘cure.’ This is a lifelong process that may include many ups and downs, and rushing someone to ‘hurry up and feel better’ could cause a person to feel like they’re failing to recover. Letting your friend or loved one know they have your support with no end date attached can help them focus on their recovery and not worry that they’re disappointing you.
7. Don’t invalidate their feelings.
Phrases like “You’ll get over it” or “Just relax” do more damage than good. Dismissing a person’s illness can make them feel like they’re failing, or that their pain isn’t being taken seriously. Minimizing mental illness is damaging and hurtful.
8. Don’t take their depression/anxiety personally.
It can be easy to take a loved one’s mental health issues personally. Are they depressed because I’m not a good partner? Are they anxious because I’ve made them that way? Why aren’t they happy being with me? These are all common thoughts, but mental illness can affect anyone, regardless of their surroundings and support group. Your loved one’s mental illness is not a reflection of their feelings for you.
9. Ask them what they need instead of guessing.
What’s helpful to one person may not feel helpful to another. Everyone’s experience with mental health is different, which is why it’s important to ask how you can help your loved one and not assume you know best.
10. Encourage them to seek help.
If you think someone you know is struggling with their mental health, knowing how to approach the subject is a delicate matter. Thankfully, Bell and CAMH have put together a comprehensive conversation guide to help open a dialogue with a loved one, and offer the tools necessary to encourage them to seek help.
It’s time we started talking openly about our mental health. Join the conversation on Bell Let’s Talk Day, January 31, and help end the stigma around mental illness. For every text message sent and mobile or long-distance call made by Bell Canada and Bell Aliant customers, Bell will donate five cents to Canadian mental health initiatives. The same goes for anyone sending a tweet using #BellLetsTalk, watching the Bell Let’s Talk Day video on Instagram or Facebook, or using the Bell Let’s Talk Facebook frame or Snapchat filter. But talking about it is just the first step: Visit letstalk.bell.ca for more ways you can effect change and build awareness around mental health.