May is also important for another reason. It's Mental Health Awareness month. While I personally think we should be watching out for the mental health of ourselves and others every month, I am glad to see a month selected to focus on mental health awareness, and I thought I'd take the chance to write specifically about what people can do to honor this.
- Know that people dealing with mental health conditions are all around you, literally. One out of four people will be diagnosed with a mental health condition at some point during their lifetime. If you add in addictive disorders (now officially part of the DSM V), this number is as high as one in three. That means that you're virtually guaranteed to know someone that battles a mental health condition.
- Educate yourself. List a few negative associations/thoughts you have about mental health. Now challenge yourself to reverse those thoughts. Do some research to learn the facts - you can find information in scientific and psychology-based publications. While I'll admit that these days it's tough to get an unbiased opinion, stay away from obviously biased media and look more for research.
- Read a couple of mental health blogs (in addition to this one). Hearing what a condition is like from someone that's actually dealing with it every day helps to give a different perspective.
- Stop using words associated with mental health disorders in a non-clinical or negative way. Saying things like "I can't focus, I must have ADD today" or "my boss keeps changing her mind about this project, it's like she's bipolar" only further to spread stigma and create ignorance. Rule of thumb: if you don't personally know what it's like to suffer from the condition, don't describe someone's actions as such. If you're not sure if it's inappropriate, replace the name of the mental illness with "cancer" or "heart condition"and see if it sounds insensitive.
- If you know someone who has a mental health condition, reach out to them. It can be to offer help or support during a tough time, to ask them if they'd mind giving you a better understanding of their condition, or to ask how you can help spread awareness.
- Contact a mental health awareness organization, such as NAMI or MHA, to see how you can get involved in a local chapter. Perhaps it's participating in a fundraising walk or event, or becoming involved as a volunteer. If there's a particular condition you're interested in benefitting, you can almost certainly find an organization that supports it. (If you need suggestions, please feel free to contact me).