I have a confession to make. I have not always been a proactive advocate for mental health awareness. Before I launched my blog, I only trotted out my mental illness on days designated to spotlight mental health and suicide.
And while my bipolar diagnosis was not a secret, it was not something I advertised. If someone reached out to me, I was always open and helpful, but I never sought out people who needed help.
In the six months before my blog, My Big Fat Bipolar Life, launched, I made it my mission to find my voice, so I would be clear on the message I wanted to share.
Mental Health Awareness Month
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so here I am thrusting my mental illness center stage once again.
I don’t know about you, but I can no longer sit back and pretend my life is perfect. I can no longer pretend I haven’t paid a high price for living with bipolar disorder. I can’t pretend my smiling face doesn’t hide someone who lives with excruciating mental pain and symptoms that are unrelenting at times.
I have cultivated a facade of normalcy from years of practice, but my blog is helping me chip away at that mask. Now that I have found my voice, I am committed to using it to destigmatize mental illness and other mental health concerns.
Here are three ways you can promote mental health awareness:
1. Share your story.
One of the first blog posts I ever wrote was about the three reasons the mentally ill should share their stories. I know what you are thinking. I am one person. How will sharing my story change anything?
I firmly believe one story has the power to change lives by shining a light on our similarities instead of our differences. If your story resonates with one person, a life has changed. They feel less alone. They feel empowered. They realize if you made it, they can too.
I believe when we demystify and humanize mental illness, it changes the way the world looks at those of us who live with mental illness. They begin to see the mentally ill as real people–not just a list of symptoms and misconceptions.
What would happen if everyone who lives with mental illness stood up and shared their stories? If one story affects a life, can you imagine the impact we could make if every person who struggles with mental illness stood up and shared their story?
It is easy to ignore one voice. It is much harder to ignore the voices of many. Collectively, we have an opportunity and an obligation to share our stories so we can end the stigma and change the way the world looks at those of us who live with mental illness and other mental health concerns.
2. Listen to someone else’s story.
So, what if you don’t personally struggle with mental illness or other mental health concerns or you are not in a place in your journey where you are prepared to stand up and speak your truth?
There is no shame in staying quiet if you are not in the right headspace to speak. Your day will come. But there is still something you can do to promote mental health awareness. You can listen.
Listening to someone else’s story strengthens both of you. You give the validation, support, and understanding the person craves. In the process, you become more educated about mental illness and other mental health concerns, and you open yourself up to the possibility of sharing your story too.
And if you are the person who doesn’t live with mental illness or other mental health concerns, you can use the knowledge you acquired from listening to someone else’s story to spread awareness and do your part to change the way the world perceives people with those struggles.
3. Do something.
What if you don’t have your own mental illness story? What if you don’t know anyone who has struggled with mental illness or other mental health concerns? Does that give you a pass? Do you have permission to stay silent and do nothing?
No! There is still plenty of work to do. So, what can you do to promote mental health awareness?
Ten Ways to Take Action and Promote Mental Health Awareness:
- Educate yourself about mental illness other mental health concerns. The website for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a great place to start.
- Share information about mental illness and other mental health concerns (including my blog posts) on social media. Don’t forget to use relevant hashtags.
- Talk to your children about mental illness, other mental health concerns, and suicide. Use age-appropriate language.
- Memorize the numbers to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and the Crisis Text Line: Text TALK to 741741. Both are available 24/7.
- Learn what to do to help someone who is suicidal by visiting StopASuicide. org, AFSP.org and reading my blog post on the subject.
- Volunteer at a local mental health awareness organization.
- Donate money to causes that promote mental health awareness.
- Participate in one of the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness community walks.
- Help someone find treatment locally by visiting SAMHSA.gov.
- Write letters to your elected officials demanding health care reform to improve the treatment options available to the mentally ill.
Something to Remember
When we look at the idea of promoting mental health awareness, it seems impossible that one person could do anything to affect lasting change. There is some truth to that. If you stand alone, you still have the power to change lives, but on a smaller scale. That work is still important and should not be dismissed.
But if we stand up together—united in our efforts to change the way the world perceives the mentally ill and all people who struggle with mental health concerns—we have the power to make a real difference.
Take another look at the 10 ways you can be proactive and promote mental health awareness by doing something. I challenge each of you to pick one item on the list and follow through with it to completion.
Each time one of us takes action, it is like a stone being skipped on a river. At first, the result is miniscule, but as more and more stones are skipped, the ripple effect reaches far and wide.
If you or someone you love is mentally ill and needs support, encouragement, and hope, join my private Facebook community, The Light Brigade.