Ahh, hashtags. What a revolution they have caused, huh? Since the origin of the #hashtag on social media (likely the brain child of a Limewire Chat Room and the Facebook ‘Like’ Button), everything has changed. The way we find our information, make interpersonal relationships, and experience life has changed, thanks to social media. One of the most significant changes that it has caused, however, is the way we as a society take action. In the 1960s, an entire counter-culture evolved through increasing rejection of the ways of a governing society. Today, we #showoursupport and ‘LIKE’ causes, but are we really making a difference?
The discussion regarding mental health has increased dramatically over the last decade, and changes that we have seen are groundbreaking. Despite all of the successes, however, we are still a long way from really improving how mental health is approached.
We must do more than simply retweet, ‘like,’ or reblog – we have to practice what we tweet! We must begin look at the core values of mental health initiatives and actually take action.
- Make it your goal to talk to someone about their mental health – Every day, most of us will ask somehow how they are doing, and I bet most of the answers are quite common – “I’m okay,” “I’m fine,” “I’m good, just tired” – or something along those lines. But how often are we actually hearing what they are saying? They may say that they are fine, but are they? Have they seemed irritable or down recently, or shown uncharacteristic behaviours such as being late or blowing off a big assignment? When we sit down and really get to know how someone is doing, we often find that things aren’t quite “okay” and they aren’t “just tired.” Fortunately, these conversations are also a great time to find out what you can do to help, and to provide them with any insight or resources at your disposal. So next time you ask someone how they are doing, really stop and listen. Show them how much you care.
- Talk about your own mental health to someone who didn’t ask – As a pursuer of the above, I have tried many different approaches to having someone open up to me about their mental health. I have read books and articles, I have taken courses, and I have made a lot of mistakes. There is a very delicate line that we must tread when discussing someone else’s mental health. A line between showing someone that we care and being intrusive, between wanting to help and pushing too hard. One of the most successful approaches I have found, however, is completely overlooked, but can ultimately be incorporated into every day life. I simply talk about my mental illness. I don’t provide seminars, or discuss my various diagnoses with groups of people, I just bring it up in normal conversation. While discussing an upcoming engagement party, someone asked me if I was excited. Instead of replying with the expected “ya, it should be fun!” I responded with “I’m very excited! My anxiety gets pretty bad before big events, so I decided to bring my sister!” This simple introduction of my mental illness normalizes the topic and opens the door for further discussion. Even if the person decides that they don’t want to discuss their own mental health with me in that instance, I have now subtly told them that they are not alone. So go ahead, as soon as you’re ready, drop your mental illness into everyday conversation and show someone that you are there with them and for them.
- Learn what to look for – With the increased awareness and acceptance of mental illness as a part of our society, there has been an increase in ways we can help. There are numerous resources available for concerned friends or family, for schools looking to be aware and pro-active, and in the workplace. Mental Health First Aid courses are offered throughout the country, with over 200,000 Canadians becoming certified over the past ten years (Mental Health Commission of Canada, 2017). That means 200,000 more people, many of whom likely work outside of other emergency response teams, know how to respond in the circumstance of a mental health crisis. (You can find a course at http://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.ca/en). Outside of courses such as these, it is important that we all recognize the signs and symptoms of a mental illness. The Canadian Mental Health Association has developed an acronym – IS PATH WARM – that, while developed primarily to help prevent suicides, provides us with a list of behaviours that may indicate mental illness:I—Ideation: thinking about suicide
S—Substance use: problems with drugs or alcohol
P—Purposelessness: feeling like there is no purpose in life or reason for living
A—Anxiety: feeling intense anxiety or feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope
T—Trapped: feeling trapped or feeling like there is no way out of a situation
H—Hopelessness or Helplessness: feeling no hope for the future, feeling like things will never get better
W—Withdrawal: avoiding family, friends, or activities
A—Anger: feeling unreasonable anger
R—Recklessness: engaging in risky or harmful activities normally avoided
M—Mood change: a significant change in mood
So let’s do more than just #startthediscussion – let’s HAVE the discussion and change how we approach mental health.
About Stephanie Brash
I live in Hamilton, Ontario and have a brilliant, beautiful daughter named Skylar. I am in the unique circumstance of having multiple quasi-diagnoses, and while they do bring about many difficulties, I have an amazing support system and am proud to be able to share my story and struggles with those who can use them!