Why is it harder to talk about mental illness than it is about say, breast cancer or heart disease? There’s a lot of stigma surrounding the issue of mental illness, shame, embarrassment and even fear experienced by people dealing with mental illness when it comes to discussing it with others, regardless of why. And, pun intended, I think part of the problem is that many sufferers feel that it’s “all in their head”. Which it is, to an extent. But that doesn’t make it any less of a disease, nor is it in any way a person’s fault or shortcoming. And making this case, amongst other things, is the purpose of Mental Health Awareness Month, which occurs in May of every year.
You can take part in this month in so many ways. There are tons of angles to work from, and in most cases, solutions that benefit those with mental illness will benefit everyone else too. Review your workplace to assess whether the overall environment can be improved in some way to increase comfort for all employees. Is your workplace sympathetic to individuals with mental illness as well as physical limitations? If not, how can you change that? Speaking to supervisors about these issues can open a dialogue on behalf of those who might benefit most from the discussion but who are too afraid to bring it up.
Obviously there’s a whole wide world out there and it’s not as easy to control as a workplace environment. But paying attention to bullying and learning tips and tricks to diffuse a hostile situation are good regardless of whether you’re directly involved or not. Also knowing the signs of someone suffering with mental illness in an unhealthy way and doing what you can to get them help can genuinely save lives. And obviously keeping yourself in check to make sure you’re contributing to an overall environment of mutual respect and compassion is important.
Another great way to demonstrate you’re a mental health advocate is through symbols like wearing a green awareness ribbon lapel pin. This is the official color adopted by Mental Health American, and it alerts those in your workplace and community that you are an advocate and that you can be counted on to listen, to speak, and to care for those who cannot always speak up for themselves. By showing this solidarity and understanding through the use of a green awareness ribbon, you’re already creating a safer space wherever you go for those around you.