Mental Health Awareness

by Andrea M. Darcy
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Feel uncomfortable if someone else is struggling? Mental health awareness can involve a learning curve. But it tends to improve not just our relationships with those around us, but also with ourselves. And it can even be lifesaving.

7 Ways to develop mental health awareness

So how can you be a better mental health ally?

1. Educate yourself on the basics of mental health.

If you want to be a mental health ally it’s important to know more about mental health than what some social media posts told you. Take time to research the signs of depression and anxiety, and the steps to supporting someone who is feeling suicidal.

Or consider taking a ‘mental health first aid’ course (MHFA). These are offered throughout the country on an ongoing basis. One option is to see if your workplace is willing to cover a course for its employees.

2. Watch your language.

Language is powerful. There are some expressions that are simply outdated and leave another person feeling shamed for issues that are beyond their control. Learn better replacements, such as:

  • You are acting crazy/ You’re acting in ways that aren’t usual for you
  • You’re mental / You don’t seem yourself right now
  • He has a mental health illness/ He’s dealing with mental health issues
  • You need help / Have you considered seeking some support?
  • They are (insert disorder) 'They are bipolar'/ They have (insert disorder) 'They have bipolar disorder'.

3. Don’t support mental health stigma.

The above examples make some of these clear. Mental health disorders don’t make someone ‘sick’, they aren’t viruses or illnesses you see under a microscope but merely a group of symptoms.

And a person is not their disorder. They are a person who happens to have an issue or disorder.

4. Learn how to listen.

Listening is a power tool when done correctly. And no, it’s not actually listening if you are thinking about other things, or waiting for them to be finished so you can share your own story.

Good listening means being fully present, and it means reflecting back and asking good questions if you don’t understand.

Use listening as a replacement whenever you want to offer advice or platitudes. Nobody going through a hard time needs to hear, "When I was struggling like you, I went and…”. Or, "Chin up think positive!". Despite your best intentions this comes across as condescending and makes things about you, not the other person’s experience.

5. Stop asking people ‘how are you’.

“How are you” by itself is not really a question, it’s a social contrivance. The other person feels compelled to say ‘fine’. So shake it up and connect more by asking people more exact questions that care about the answer, like:

  • ‘What’s going on for you right now?'
  • ‘How are you feeling this week?'
  • ‘You look ___’? (You look relaxed/tired/distracted/excited…).

Don’t start questions with ‘why’, though. These tend to lead the other person feeling cornered or falling into a self-reflexive rabbit hole. Consider the difference, for example, between "You look flustered…" with, "Why do you look flustered?" The first gives the person the option to share. The latter seems a judgement that forces an explanation.

6. Work on developing empathy.

The one thing nobody going through a mental health challenge needs is sympathy. It just makes someone feel judged and like a failure. And they aren’t. We all go through challenges, it’s part of life.

Offer empathy instead, where you acknowledge they are struggling and that you understand it’s hard. Work to see what they are going through and understand their perspective.

So instead of, "Poor you", consider, "I see you are feeling sad about not getting a university place. I imagine that must feel quite confusing".

7. Invest in getting to know yourself as part of mental health awareness.

It’s that airplane scenario with the mask again. The old adage that you can’t help others if you aren’t helping yourself first.

The best way to have more compassion for others and to understand them better is to have more compassion for ourselves, and know ourselves better.

Therapy can be a great fast track here. It creates a safe space to get to know what we really think, feel, and want. And the best way to help someone else is often to lead by example. If you are constantly worrying about everyone else’s mental health and pushing them to go to therapy? Start by going yourself.

Time to take your own mental health seriously? Use our easy booking tool now to find the right therapist for you and get started.

Andrea M. Darcy has been writing about mental health for over a decade and is the lead writer of this blog.

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