What it means to be a mental health ally and advocate

What it means to be a mental health ally and advocate

Anyone can be afflicted with a mental disease at any stage in life. It doesn’t discriminate on the basis of gender, caste or age. It has become a common occurrence experienced by millions worldwide. An estimated one in five people in the United States suffers from some form of mental illness every year as per the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Besides suffering from the actual symptoms of their conditions, people have to face something else which is perhaps worse – stigma, ridicule and discrimination.

Attitudes towards mental health problems are conditioned due to reasons such as lack of awareness, negative portrayal of mental illness in media, and stereotypical beliefs perpetuated by culture and violence. It is not unusual for people to think that someone suffering from a mental health condition is a danger to society. Such negative perceptions force the affected individuals to suffer silently and prevent them from seeking professional help for their treatment.

It is crucial for individuals battling mental health conditions to get the support of family and friends. It is not just an act of kindness; the support provided can convince a person to seek treatment and it can also expedite the recovery process. A mental health ally can thus play a critical role in comforting and shepherding people on the path to recovery.

Being a good mental health ally is more than just giving advice

A good mental health ally understands the responsibilities that such a role demands. It requires delicate handling and, very often, striking the right balance. Mentioned below are some of the ways in which people can become better mental health allies:

  • Increasing self-awareness: Mental illness encompasses a wide range of conditions including depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), all of which are very different from each other. Good mental health allies will understand a specific individual’s condition thoroughly by raising their own awareness. Credible information sources are available online and offline which can serve as references. It is inappropriate to ask those suffering to explain their conditions to the ally.
  • Avoiding improper language: People suffering from mental health conditions usually face discrimination, although their health concerns are no less important than people suffering from diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease. Use of words such as “crazy”, “nuts” or “insane” does not help in improving an affected person’s condition; it only worsens it. Being mindful of the choice of words and interjecting when someone else speaks negatively are traits of a good ally. Being sensitive and nonjudgmental is the best way to provide genuine help.
  • Learning to listen well: There is a fine line between curiosity and intrusion and this becomes more important when dealing with people who have mental illnesses. A good ally will be genuinely interested in helping the affected individual by asking the right questions without being offensive. Careful thought needs to be given to the questions asked and the responses received. Affected individuals should not be coaxed into divulging more details than what they are comfortable with.
  • Making others participate in mental health discussions: In some sections of society or demographic groups, discussing mental health issues openly is culturally forbidden. In many situations mental health allies will need to be vocal but this may not be possible always. In such cases, it becomes important to initiate discussions using alternative methods. Social media can be a good way to engage with people and sensitize them in breaking the stereotypes.
  • Taking care of one’s own mental health: There may be days when an ally may feel low, angry or hopeless. Therapy benefits not only people suffering from mental illnesses but also mental health allies and advocates. In the quest of helping others, allies should not ignore their own health. If they are able to overcome the stigma associated with mental health, it sets an example for others to follow.

Advocating for overall improvement in mental healthcare policies and services

Although there has been progress in expanding mental health care services in the U.S., more needs to be done. Advocating for policies which eliminate the discrimination faced by people suffering from mental health and ensuring broader coverage of mental health services within insurance networks are just some of the areas requiring urgent attention. Allies can play a crucial role by joining advocacy groups to generate awareness and educate people about mental health issues.

If you or your loved one is suffering from any mental health problems, contact the California Mental Health Helpline for guidance on mental health centers in California offering comprehensive treatment programs. Call us at our 24/7 helpline number 855-559-3923 or chat online with our specialists to get advice on the best mental health rehabilitation centers in California.