3 Ways to be an Effective Mental Health Ally

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and particularly after the year that we've had with the coronavirus pandemic, our fight to destigmatize the discussions of mental health is all the more necessary. It is important for us to understand the ways in which mental health shapes society at-large, particularly its impact on women, as 1 in 5 women in the United States have reported experiencing a mental health condition in the past year. Overall, women are more likely to be diagnosed with mental health conditions than men. Consider these findings from recent research studies: 

  • Women are twice as likely as men to be impacted by General Anxiety Disorder (GAD). 
  • Women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with panic disorder (PD). 
  • Serious mental illness (SMI) impacts up to 11 million adults in the United States each year, which is roughly 4.5% of the total adult population. However, upon further demographic breakdown, 5.7% of adult women are diagnosed with SMI and 3.3% of men are diagnosed.
  • While 19% of American adults have reported anxiety over the past two years, there is a notable difference in the rate of reporting between genders.  The percentage of women reporting (23.4% ) is much higher than the percentage of men (14.3%).
  • 1.9% of women experience anorexia (excessive weight loss) each year, which is a significantly larger percentage than the 0.2% of men. 

 As we can clearly see, discussions surrounding mental health are multifaceted and often have gendered implications in diagnosis, treatment, and support. Hopefully, these conversations will continue to evolve to capture much-needed nuance and destigmatize mental health needs. We need to hold ourselves accountable to furthering these discussions in positive ways and to supporting people with mental health needs. Here are three core ways to be an effective mental health ally

  1. Educate yourself 

Do not expect people with mental illnesses to explain all of the nuances of their needs. Of course, never make assumptions about what they may need either. Allow for people with mental illnesses to articulate their own needs in the ways that they can, but do not treat them asthe living Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5) definition for the mental health condition that they have. Educate yourself, but also know that part of that education is being willing to listen when people share their needs with you. People are whole people, not just the sum of distinct behaviors. Educating yourself involves actively seeking general knowledge surrounding a mental health condition while also honoring the specific needs and humanity of the people with said condition.  

2. Use language carefully

We often use terms imprecisely without the intention to do any harm. With that being said, you should never use words that are associated with mental health conditions or mental health stigmatization in  the description of day to day things. For example, avoid using words like “crazy” or “insane”  in the casual description of behaviors. Don’t use words like “depression” or “anxiety” loosely either. When you are describing your own behaviors, NEVER  self-diagnose yourself with a mental health condition. Know that the language that you use and the intentionality with which you use it matters. There are people who bear the weight of actually having mental health needs and unfortunately experiencing prejudice because of other people’s preconceived notions about them. 

3. Be mindful of your own mental health

You can't be an effective mental health ally if you don’t prioritize your own mental wellness. Don’t try to pour out of emptiness in order to be an ally. You need to know your own boundaries and understand the extent to which you're able to help somebody with mental health needs in a sustainable way. A huge part in uplifting the mental health and wellness of your community is to include yourself in that. Your mental health needs matter too. 

Here at LILAS Wellness, we want for everybody to feel like they can have safe conversations about mental health and wellness. We want to continue to be allies to thosewho wrestle with mental illness or have particular mental health needs. Here are some resources  to be better equipped as a community to come alongside those with mental health needs, especially during this critical phase of transition in our world: 

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