How To Be A Mental Health Ally
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Health and Wellness

How To Be A Mental Health Ally

Your job is to love them.

How To Be A Mental Health Ally

Throughout my life, I have been lucky enough to know and love some of the most beautiful and lovely individuals. My friends, family and loved ones are crucial in my growth as a person and development of myself; they help me to learn, grow, laugh, lead and love. In return for the valuable services that these individuals provide me as they walk alongside me in life, I hope to support them, love them, guide them, and encourage them. I hope to be there for them as they are for me. At times this is easier than others.

A number of people in my life struggle with their mental health. Mental illness is scary - just as any illness is scary. However, stigmas and a general absence of information and conversation about mental health lead to a lack of understanding about mental illnesses, which only increases fear, confusion and frustration.

As someone who has been neurotypical my entire life, I can not even scratch the surface on understanding what it is like to experience a mental illness. To love someone and see them undergoing pain and struggle, yet being unable to truly understand their experience or fix the situation is incredibly heart-wrenching and frustrating. You want to be there for the people you love. How?

Over time, by having conversations and doing a lot of listening to the people I love, I am learning how to best be there for the people in my life who struggle with their mental health. I've made mistakes, I've done and said the wrong thing and I can really only speak from my own experiences, but I think this is important, so I'd like to share. Here is what I've learned about how to be allied to those struggling with their mental health.

You simply just can't understand.

If you haven't experienced it, you can't understand it. I know that it's frustrating; you just want to be able to get in their head and understand what's happening. You can't. And accepting that is important. You can listen to them describe what they're feeling - and that's important - but don't be upset or annoyed when it doesn't make sense to you.

Don't try to relate your own experiences.

"I get it, I felt super depressed after my breakup." "I totally know what you mean, I get really anxious before giving presentations." "Oh, I completely understand, I am super OCD about keeping the bathroom clean."

No. This is not helpful. If you do not have the mental illness, you do not know what it's like, and trying to compare it to experiences you have had only devalues your loved one's health and will likely, fairly, make them unwilling to share their thoughts and feelings with you. You do not have to relate to their struggles to be there for them.

Ask questions and respect boundaries.

As I mentioned before, you can't understand exactly what they are thinking in feeling. However, that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to learn more. When/if it's appropriate, ask about what they're feeling, what triggers that for them, what they do when they feel that way, how they would like you to support them, etc. But most importantly, ask, learn and respect their boundaries. Not everyone will be willing to talk about their mental health, for various reasons, and that's OK.

Pay attention.

If your friend mentions that being late triggers her anxiety, try your best to be early if you're going somewhere with her. If you notice that social events exhaust your boyfriend when his depression is flaring up, suggest that the two of you stay in rather than go to a party during those times. Pay attention to the small things that you can do to make their lives easier. That's what we do for the people we love, right?

Don't take it personally. It's not about you.

If your roommate doesn't want to go out with you because she's feeling anxious, don't take that personally. Recognize that when someone is dealing with their mental health, it's important that they listen to their bodies and take care of themselves. Sometimes, when it may feel selfish or rude when someone puts themselves first. Know that it's not, and respect their needs.

Do research and seek out resources.

The more you know, the more you can be there for your loved ones. I myself have conducted many Google searches. Whether it's to learn more about a specific mental illness, hear the experiences of others, or discover more ways that you can help, educating yourself is a great way to give support.

They don't have to always be OK. You don't either.

Mental illnesses don't follow the rules, they aren't often easy to predict, and they definitely are not convenient. Your loved one might be having a very low moment on a very exciting day. That stinks, but it's reality and sometimes we all just need to roll with the punches. You can't force someone to be OK. It's OK that they're not doing well. They don't have to be OK. Remember that, and remind them of that.

At the same time, remember that you're allowed to have bad days too. Sometimes it feels wrong to be sad or scared or nervous when you know that others deal with mental illnesses beyond your comprehension. However, you're allowed not to be OK, even when you're neurotypical. Take care of you, too.

You can't fix them. There is nothing to be fixed.

First of all, someone with a mental illness is not broken, so you can't fix them. And I know. You want to just love them so much that their mental illness disappears forever. It's not like that. A mental illness doesn't just up and leave. Instead, you can love them by being by their side as they learn how to manage their own mental health, and grow stronger in the process.

Your job is not to heal all. Your job is to love them - when they're doing great and when they aren't.

Know your own limits. It's OK to step back.

Loving someone with a mental illness can be exhausting you for, too (especially if you feel as though you are responsible for 'fixing them.' Don't do that). I know that might feel selfish and awful to admit, but it's true and that's OK. Know your limits. If you feel your own wellbeing decreasing to an unhealthy point, it's OK to take a step back and focus on yourself. Never put anyone else's wellbeing above your own.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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