The World Health Organization (WHO)defines mental health as being ‘a state of wellbeing in which the individual realises his or her abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her community’. This means that our mental health isn’t just dependent on lack of illness, but also includes regular maintenance and care. In contrast, it is also possible to have mental health issues and live a balanced, stable life.
Misconceptions and stigmas
1 in 5 people will suffer from mental health issues and the current attitudes and stigmas discourage individuals suffering from mental illness or problems from seeking the appropriate help, in a timely manner. Moreover, quick access to services providing a rapid response to their needs, starting from the earliest symptoms, is vital to the success of their treatment and recovery.
In fact, the stigmas surrounding mental illness are sometimes harder to deal with for the affected individual than the actual symptoms. According to the Quebec Government Health website, some common misconceptions about mental illness are:
❝People with schizophrenia are violent. ❞
❝People suffering from depression lack willpower. ❞
❝People suffering from anxiety have a weak personality. ❞
❝People with bipolar disorder are hard to manage. ❞
So, what are the 10 things you can do?
Regularly check up on them. Send them a text and ask how they are doing. They may not answer, but the attention will not go unnoticed. You can even mention in your text that you’re not expecting an answer, so the person doesn’t feel any pressure or guilt for not responding. However, if you think the person is a danger to his or herself, ask that they give you a minimum of a “k” as a reply. In the absence thereof, take necessary action.
2. Offer to go for a coffee, movie or anything they like. If the person is heavily depressed and not likely to go out, send over some food or treats.
3. Show your openness and willingness to listen when they are ready to open up about their mental illness. Be supportive. When they do open up, listen actively and engage with what they are expressing.
4. Offer to assist them in finding appropriate help or care. Sometimes, to them small tasks feel like mountains.
5. If the person is willing and open, offer to show them some coping or grounding skills. Otherwise, you can email them (or write) a list of online references to check when they are ready.
6. Encourage them, praise every ounce of progress.
7. Care and show it. Let them know you’re there for them.
8. Do not criticize. Be understanding. They will go through ups and downs.
9. Take the time to research or read up on what your family member/friend/colleague is going through. Learn the signs and symptoms. Use this to help your loved one but also to educate others on mental illness.
10. Offer to help them with daily tasks like shopping, cleaning, cooking or laundry. Offering a parent who has mental health problems or illness some babysitting time is invaluable.
Be part of the solution, not the problem
Be an agent of change. Help transform the way mental illness is perceived and dealt with — every chance you get. For example, intervene when inappropriate comments or jokes are made related to mental illness. Inform them that their comments can be hurtful, they can discourage one from getting help and most importantly, these comments and behaviours contribute to stigmatization of people with mental illness.
Here is a list of resources from the WHO concerning Suicide Prevention; don’t hesitate to use them or send them over to someone who you think needs them.