4 Ways to be a Mental Health Ally
posted by Erika Massey
In my home, the conversation about mental illness was a normal one. I went to a therapeutic high school where it was normal as well. Sometimes it was easy to forget that most of the people in the world do not understand, and that there is a large amount of people who don’t accept that mental illnesses are real. It is hard to hide from the fact that the world has a stigma against mental illness.
I decided that this coming fall, I want to create a Mental Health Awareness club at LIM, to ensure our College community is a friendly environment for those with mental illnesses. This blog is to show there are many ways to be an ally to those with mental illnesses and to help end the stigma.
To start off, what is an ally?
An ally is a person who makes a safe space for people. LIM provides safe space training for LGBTQ+ members, and the same rules apply. A safe space is a place where there is no judgement, a person can comfortably communicate their feelings and feel physically comfortable.
1. Educate yourself
It is important when you act as an ally to try to understand, ask questions when you don’t know things and just educate yourself. Here are a few things that I find important for people to know:
One key factor to keep in mind is "mental illness" is an umbrella term. There are multiple types of mental illnesses and everyone experiences them differently. Mental illness is also a physical illness; just not one you can see. There are multiple causes. Mental illnesses are considered a disability. Having a mental illness does not make you weak or less capable of succeeding than a person without one. It means that it is just harder, but not impossible, to achieve the same goals. Lastly, there are so many misconceptions about mental illness, and there are many myths about it. Keep an open mind and don’t assume the things you hear are true. Below are some good resources if you want to look more into the topic of mental health and illnesses.
2. Listen and be kind with your words
I think this is the most essential thing to do as an ally. I am very open about my struggles with my mental health but I rarely tell people my exact diagnosis. First, a person is never required to share their diagnosis, their story, or explain things like self-harm scars. When a person opens up to you about any of these, it is not your job to give them advice but just to listen. Just listen unless they ask for more. Opening up about this topic can be hard and can feel like a risk every time they say it. Be supportive and say, “ I’m here if you ever need me.” Be kind and thoughtful with your words. Also think about the power of your words even when you are just casually talking in a group because you never know who it could hurt. It is important to keep in mind that mental illnesses are not verbs, adjectives or nouns. Here are some examples.
3. Take care of your own mental health
To be a mental health advocate, you have to practice it yourself. You can’t always be on the grind. Taking a me-day is not a bad thing. You can not be your best, including mentally. Sleep should be a priority; it is how we have energy for the next day. Get eight hours of sleep, de-stress by hanging out with friends, meditating, or anything that you find that works for you. I love dancing it out.
4. Share your story
The more of us who do this, the more powerful the movement is. Here's mine:
As a kid, I always had anxiety, and when I entered my tweens I hit a really rough patch of depression. I started to see a psychologist and it helped a lot but not enough. So I started to see a psychiatrist. I started with antidepressants which triggered my first manic episode and I had to be hospitalized because I was suicidal. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and transferred to a therapeutic high school. I chose LIM because they had built in supports with the Counseling and Accessibility Office. If I need their services, I have easy access. I now work as a Student Mentor, work for the Admissions and Marketing offices and maintain good grades. My mental illness does not define me and I will never let it hold me back. My experience has made me passionate about mental health and advocating for it.