5 Ways to Support and Advocate for People with Mental Illness
Mental health, depression and suicide are all the chatter following Kate Spade’s death. In honor of that, I am updating a post from 2012 that talks about assisting friends and loved ones with a mental illness. It doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming. Just a few minutes out of your week could make the difference in someone’s life. Let’s all make it a point to actively support and advocate for people with mental health issues.
When I first became an advocate, I thought that I was just going to help families like mine. Turns out, of all my clients, not one is like mine. The moms and I share that common bond of parenting a child with special needs, and that’s what I love about my work. But the similarities usually end there. A quick tally in my head tells me that probably 9 out of 10 of my clients have a mental illness. Yes, it’s usually co-morbid with other disabilities, but the mental illness is often very prevalent and quite often neglected in the IEP. But I digress (see how easy it is for me to start ranting?).
If you want to help with mental health advocacy, here are some resources for you to check out.
NAMI–NAMI is the National Alliance for Mental Illness. They are one of the national leaders in advocacy in this area. You can sign up for their legislative alerts to learn of what issues they want people to contact their legislators about. For instance, did you know that if the fiscal cliff issue is not resolved, already under-funded mental health will lose another 8% of their funding? Another one of their Action Alert items right now is the issue of restraint and seclusion in schools. And their motto is “You are not alone.”
Two other organizations to check out are Mental Health America and the Mental Health Advocacy Coalition. I don’t want to come across as really lame by just posting links to other groups. But if you want to advocate, you really can’t do it alone. And why try to build a better mouse trap? If there is a group that is already spreading the message you want to send, join their numbers. Because there is strength in numbers.
5 Ways to Support and Advocate for People with Mental Illness.
Ask. It’s that simple. Ask what they want or what they need. “I want to assist you if I can, but I don’t want to say or do the wrong thing. What do you need?” There’s a common misconception that if you mention suicide, that will prompt the person to do it. That is not true, heard it on CBS News this morning.
Don’t judge. If someone has a heart condition or diabetes, we don’t judge them for taking prescriptions or for canceling out on us. Do the same for mental illness.
Educate yourself and your family about these “invisible illnesses.” If you encountered someone with cancer or diabetes, you would never suggest that they don’t need medical help. Nor would you deny them treatment and tell them to just “snap out of it.” Mental illness real. It is no less of a physical illness than any other illness. As a society, we need to break down the stigmas and the stereotypes. All this stuff prohibits families from getting help. Every day, mental illness is swept under the rug. And people trying to get help are not validated.
Be a good friend even if it’s hard. I have seen some moms persevere through difficult situations when many would have given up and walked away. Living with mental illness is difficult and isolating. Not every person with a mental illness is destined to be a mass murderer. But that is how mental health gets in the spotlight. Then families living with it end up alone because people are afraid of them. Be a good friend and encourage your kids to be a good friend, especially when it’s difficult due to peer pressure. Listen to them. Ask what you can do to help. Be patient. Be kind.
Ask a mental health facility or home near you if someone could use support. You can’t just walk in off the street even with the best of intentions. Of course there are medical privacy issues. But maybe see if there is a person living there, struggling with mental illness, who would benefit from some gifts or support over the holidays or any time. It is common for people living in institutions with mental illness to be estranged from their families. Even a donation of a book or other item that they enjoy may brighten their day. (I’m not trying to oversimplify mental illness with the thought that a holiday gift will cure it all. But kindness can create change.)
Know that you can make a difference.
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