May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it is time everyone starts paying attention. According to the National Institute for Mental Health 18.9% of adults experience some kind of mental illness. So roughly one-fifth of the people you know will experience mental illness in their lifetime. Maybe you are one of those people, and maybe you are just a supporter. Either way, it is good to stay up to date on mental health statistics, and be aware of what is going on with those around you. Here are some good things to keep in mind as you pay special attention to mental health this month.
There are Levels
Movies almost depict mental illness as severe and life-altering. While this is true in many cases, it’s not true for everyone. One of the biggest aspects of mental illness that people forget is that it’s on the inside. Though there can be visual signs of mental illness, such as self-harm, most mental illness goes undetected by the naked eye. Anyone around you could have a problem with their mental health. And, yes, it could be huge and life-threatening, but it might be small and seemingly insignificant. Not everyone is like A Beautiful Mind, some people aren’t sleeping or eating enough, and that is also a sign of mental illness.
People experience mental health issues with varying levels of severity. And everyone’s feelings are valid whether they are suicidal or they feel a little bit down everyday. It is not only important to remember this when empathizing with others, but to remember this is true of ourselves. Someone else having a more severe mental issue than you does not invalidate your problems. Mental health issues come in all shapes and sizes and we need to be aware of them.
It’s Not Your Fault
Self-blame is a huge problem for those living with a mental illness. But you should never blame yourself for those feelings. It is not your fault that you are bipolar, or bulimic, or depressed. There are tons of causes of mental illness, and it is important to remember that you did not cause them.
If you are supporting a friend through their mental health issues you still need to remember they did not cause this. Mentally stable people sometimes have a hard time seeing why those with illnesses drink too much or self harm. Those are coping mechanisms to help them through their internal problems. They did not choose to feel the way they do. Don’t blame those with mental illness for feeling the way they do, they did not choose this life.
Mental Health is Complicated
There are tons of causes for mental health issues: sometimes they are genetic, sometimes they come through experience, sometimes it’s a combination. Everyone has a different path that leads them towards their problems. For example, although PTSD is often considered a wartime illness, more than half of women will experience PTSD in their lifetime, and one of the leading causes is sexual abuse. Contrary to PTSD, psychotic illnesses, such as schizophrenia, are linked to genetics.
Anyone is susceptible to mental illness. No matter whether someone is genetically predisposed, or they undergo an event that causes illness, everyone’s experience is different. Also most mental illnesses develop or start to develop in a person’s early twenties. So someone can go years feeling perfectly fine, then be changed.
Let’s not forget other aspects of stability, such as access to resources. Not only is the ability to get help important, but socioeconomic standing is a huge factor with mental health and awareness. Mental health disproportionately affects those without access to resources such as food, clean water, shelter, education, etc.. Mental health is messy, and different for everyone, even those with the same illness. Remember to always be aware of people’s backgrounds and their situation.
Be Self Aware
If you are just a supporter, remember to be conscious of what you say and do. It’s easy to forget that your friends and family aren’t doing well on the inside. This is especially true given that mental health can’t be seen. Try not to say anything offensive, don’t use the word “crazy”, and be aware is you are accidentally prompting someone’s triggers.
For those who do have a mental illness, self awareness can be tough to recognize a lot of the time. Although it is not your fault for having an illness, you are responsible for how you react. Be aware of when you have unhealthy responses, or take your problems out on other people. And even if you do have a moment where you get mad at someone when you shouldn’t, or you lose control, always remember to apologize after. You can’t control everything about your illness, but you can do your best to treat others and yourself with care and respect.
One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself or someone with a mental illness is kindness. Be there, be supportive. Kindness comes in infinite forms. Maybe it means bringing your friend ice cream when they are sad, or maybe it means giving them some space. We all want to be loved. And it can be difficult for those in the throes of mental illness to feel they are getting the love they need. So this Mental Health Awareness Month go check in on your friends and loved ones. Make sure they know you are there.