Most people find it difficult to talk about mental illness. Nevertheless, it is a prevalent issue in the United States. In fact, 1 in 5 Americans has a mental illness, and 1 in 25 Americans has a serious mental illness like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. For the past 25 years, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has designated the first full week in October as Mental Illness Awareness Week. This week serves to promote awareness, increase education, reduce stigma and recognize the need to support those with mental illness. Here’s what you can do to help yourself or someone you know who has a mental illness.
Understand that mental health is just as important as physical health. The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
Remember that mental health and physical health influence each other. You can improve your overall mental health through healthy lifestyle habits such as exercising, staying active, eating well and getting enough sleep. At the same time, you can improve your physical health by reducing stress and anxiety as well as developing coping skills and stress management techniques.
Educate yourself or others. Learn about mental health issues and their impact to better understand your experience or the experience of others. MentalHealth.gov is a wealth of information and encourages conversation about this important aspect of health.
Don’t define yourself or others by their diagnosis. Mental illness is just a small part of your or their identity. Using labels can hurt, disempower and discourage people from getting the help they need.
Avoid judgment. Being nonjudgmental is imperative to helping someone with a mental illness and encourages open communication. If you have a mental illness, not judging yourself is important to your recovery.
Have patience. Recovery from any illness is a long process. It doesn’t happen overnight and it is a continuous journey for most people. It can be helpful to think of a mental illness as a chronic disease. For example, someone with anxiety might require ongoing treatment just as someone would with diabetes.
Show support. Be supportive to those you know who have a mental illness. Talk to them and help keep lines of communication open so they feel comfortable coming to you in times of need.
Seek support. If you or someone you know has a mental illness, seeking the appropriate support is necessary. If you have a mental illness, it is important to have the support of family, friends or coworkers, and appropriate professionals. At the same time, if you’re caring for someone with a mental illness, you may need support too.
Reduce stigma. Until recently, mental illness was viewed as a character flaw or weakness. Organizations like NAMI have made great progress in changing the way that it is viewed. However, there is still much stigma surrounding mental illness. Sign this stigma free pledge to show your support.
How Health Advocate Can Help
If you’re a Health Advocate member with access to our EAP+Work/Life program, our Licensed Professional Counselors can work with you by phone to help you cope with a number of mental health issues, including stress, depression, family issues, and more. If needed, they can also refer you to a professional for long-term counseling. Additionally, our Work/Life Specialists can provide other support services to ensure you can cope with potential stressors that may arise.
Other Helpful Resources
Please visit any of the websites below for additional information about mental health and wellness, and available resources to help:
- Mental Health America
- National Alliance on Mental Illness
- National Council for Behavioral Health (Find a Provider feature)