In 2010, Bell Media became a corporate leader in further the conversation around mental health when they launched the Bell Let’s Talk Day initiative. Every year on Bell Let’s Talk Day, Bell donates 5 cents for every applicable text, call, tweet, social media video view, and use of a Facebook frame or Snapchat geofilter. This year it is today, January 31st. As part of this campaign, the Bell Let’s Talk website has many resources for those struggling with their mental health, and for others hoping to help those struggling. This blog post will focus more on the allies hoping to help. Often people don’t know how to approach their friends or family members who are showing signs of distress. Bell suggests 5 ways to help that hopefully help people avoid common missteps.
Just as we no longer use racial or homophobic slurs, there are words that are tossed around in today’s society that can cause a lot of harm for those struggling with mental health. For example, “Oh you’re acting so crazy again!”. Actively working to remove harmful words like psycho, crazy, and mental will go a long way to fostering a positive and productive conversation. A different way to approach someone like in the previous example is “I can see you are feeling out of control right now, is there anything I can do for you?”
Most people have a preconceived notion of what mental illness looks like. However, much of that “knowledge” is from what we have seen in the media, which is often not a correct portrayal of the reality of mental illness. If a friend or family member has recently been diagnosed with depression, do some research. Look at medical websites that accurately describe what depression can look like from the outside. Hopefully the resources you find will also try to put into words how your loved one might be feeling, to help you gain a better understanding of what they are going through.
This one seems pretty obvious. However, compassion and empathy aren’t always our go-to reactions when a loved one is “acting out”. Try to remember no matter how difficult they seem to be, they are having to live this reality. It is important to realize they might have limited or no control over their actions. Acknowledging their struggle is a good first step to making sure they feel heard, accepted, and safe.
Listen and Ask
Truly listening to what someone is saying is sometimes more difficult than it sounds. When you are already trying to “fix them” and have your ideas about what is going to work, you might not be hearing what they are actually asking for. Often those with a mental illness are so afraid of how their network will react, that they don’t reach out. Be the one to ask “is everything ok?” or “I’ve noticed you haven’t made it out to the last few family gatherings, I know they can be stressful. Is there anything I can do to make it easier for you?”.
Talk About It
Being open with your feelings can help break down stigma and let others know its okay to do the same. So many mental health issues are helped by talking about it. Whether that looks like opening up to a friend who confides in you or helping another friend to find a counselor, it is the first step to recovery and a happier life.