By Pam Dewey • Mental Health, mental health advocacy • March 04, 2021
People with depression are told to “snap out of it,” or those with anxiety to “just relax.” There’s such a stigma surrounding mental health that many people are ashamed to talk about their struggles. So, they may not reach out for help when they need it, which can be incredibly harmful and even dangerous for their well-being.
But we know someone with depression can’t just snap out of it. That’s why it’s important to normalize mental health challenges. One way to do that is by becoming a mental health advocate. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “Mental health advocates…take risks and show their vulnerability by telling their truth in hopes of encouraging someone else.”
Here are five ways to normalize mental health issues by becoming a mental health advocate in your community.
Talk about your mental health
Because mental health issues are stigmatized, people are often afraid to talk about their difficulties. This is incredibly isolating. Sharing your mental health challenges with others lets them know they aren’t alone. You can do that by talking to close friends or family, sharing on social media, writing a blog or talking to your church or community group.
Advocate for getting help
Not only are mental health issues stigmatized, but so too is getting help. Speaking to a mental health professional can be the difference between life and death for some, but many are ashamed to seek the help they need. A therapist helps people process and explore complicated feelings. Therapy can help people find answers and move forward. If you’ve seen a therapist, share your journey, and let others know there’s nothing wrong with seeking professional help. Even if you haven’t seen a therapist, you can encourage others to reach out to a mental health professional.
Attend mental health community events
NAMI hosts NAMIWalks every year, and the event advocates for mental health for all. In 2020, the organization pivoted to a virtual event, NAMIWalks Your Way, which encouraged people to participate in a way that was accessible to them, given the pandemic. You can learn more about this year’s event here.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) also hosts Out of the Darkness walks across the country each year. According to the AFSP, “Each year, suicide claims more lives than war, murder, and natural disasters combined.” Each state has a local AFSP chapter, and these walks occur at college campuses, in the community or at overnight events. There is an Out of the Darkness Twin Cities Walk currently scheduled for September 19, 2021, at Como Park Picnic Pavilion.
While volunteer opportunities are currently limited at some organizations, there are ways you can reach out and support individuals in their mental health journeys.
Advocate for politicians to prioritize mental health services
NAMI Minnesota has some volunteer advocacy opportunities, including becoming a legislative committee member and a personal story contributor. Plan to attend Mental Health Day on the Hill “when mental health advocates come to learn the key issues, rally in the Capitol Rotunda and lobby their legislators.” This year, the event will be held virtually on March 11, 2021.
The AFSP attends a yearly State Capitol Day where advocates come “together with state and local public officials to share information and urge that suicide prevention be made a priority.” This year’s event will be virtual on April 19, 2021. You can learn more and register here.
Being a mental health advocate helps normalize mental health challenges. By being vulnerable, you let others know they aren’t alone. We all must begin to talk honestly and openly about mental health, to ensure everyone can access the help they need.