As you’re probably (and hopefully) aware, May marks Mental Health Awareness Month (as well as many other important things). This is something that is very important to me so I wanted to take a moment to think about what we can actually do to help spread awareness; this month, this week, and every other day.
It’s not enough to just share an image online and write a quick hashtag, this is something that needs attention and should be an everyday effort. So here are some things to keep in mind to truly help spread awareness and decrease the stigma surrounding mental health.
1. Check in with your friends
This is an easy one. Over the past year, since 2020 happened, it’s been more important than ever to check in with our families and friends. We’ve surely all learned just how much loneliness, isolation and boredom can affect us (not to mention tragedy and any other unfortunate circumstances). So if you realise that a friend hasn’t reached out to you in a while, reach out to them!
Take it from me; it’s easy to convince yourself that your friends are too busy, too stressed out themselves to have time for you. So checking in with a simple “how are you?” will let them know that you’re thinking about them and that you care.
2. Check in with them again
This might sound like a cheat to elongate this list but I’m serious. Nine times out of ten, if you ask someone how they are, their almost automatic response will be, “I’m good, thanks. How’re you?” My personal favourite is, “I’m tired.” I don’t feel inclined to be honest because people are just being courteous, right? They don’t really want to know. They don’t want to get into the deep feeling territory. So, by asking again, you’re letting them know that you genuinely want to know that they’re okay, this isn’t just small talk here.
Yes, I am genuinely physically tired a lot, but I’m also mentally tired. But no one moves to enquire past my automatic response so really, ask again.
3. Check in with yourself
How are you doing? How are you really doing? Your mental health shouldn’t be something that you only start caring about once things get bad; it needs to be something we actively work on, day in and day out. So how are you feeling, really? Take a few minutes to really check in with yourself? Tired, stressed, bored, anxious, lonely, angry, whatever it is, take note of it.
Everyone’s situation is different, there’s no one size fits all cure to make things suddenly better. But be sure to take time out for yourself, relax in whatever way works for you, and imagine yourself as the friend in tips 1 and 2; reach out, you’re not alone in this, I promise.
4. Do you have a story to share?
I truly believe that our greatest weapon against mental health stigma is stories. No matter what form they take; novels, poems, songs, films, blog posts – every one of them can make a difference. Choosing to share your story isn’t easy, but to someone still lost in the darkness, it can mean the world.
When I was younger, in the worst of my depression, I would often see posters and advertisements here and there saying that “you’re not alone” or “talk to someone”, often accompanied by a list of symptoms or statistics. But those campaigns never once made an impact upon me.
Someone I knew at the time told me about To Write Love On Her Arms, an American-based organisation for mental health awareness. I remember the first time I visited their website and saw testimonies from musicians and celebrities that I looked up to; namely Amy Lee and Hayley Williams. It made an immediate impact on me and truly made me feel, for the first time ever, a bit more understood, a little less alone. I don’t mean to say that we need celebrity endorsement, not at all. The point here is that TWLOHA offered real people with real stories, real pain, and real hope. Anyone can say “you’re not alone” but sharing our stories is the only way to prove that.
So, if you elect to share your story, your friends will see you as someone they can talk to, someone who will understand and support them. It will show other people that they can share their stories too, that there’s nothing to be afraid or ashamed of.
I’ve written my debut novel about my experiences with depression, self-harm, and suicidal ideation, and as scary as it is to lay myself bare like that, I know that it has the power to help countless others in their fight against the darkness.
5. Start and participate in discussions
This could carry on from the previous tips. Mental Health Awareness Month invites us all to be more open and to be more accepting of others and their pain. The internet has become a wonderful place for this, allowing us to communicate with others across the globe.
As well as sharing your own story, you can also share the story of others. You can share songs and poems, discuss movies and other media depictions, be they good or bad. Critique the current state of mental health care in Ireland (it’s bad) or wherever you are. Talk about it however you can, with whoever you can. The more we talk about it, the more normalised it becomes. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health and should be discussed just as openly.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. I encourage you to share this post if you found it useful and to add in any other tips that you may have. Stay safe, stay sane, and call a friend!