This Mental Health Month, Remember to Listen

May is Mental Health Month! This year, Mental Health America is focusing on the topic of “Risky Business”:

We believe it’s important to educate people about habits and behaviors that increase the risk of developing or exacerbating mental illnesses, or could be signs of mental health problems themselves. These include risk factors such as risky sex, prescription drug misuse, internet addiction, excessive spending, marijuana use, and troublesome exercise patterns. We hope the tools and resources that we’ve put together help individuals and communities to raise awareness of the risks that these types of behaviors present—especially to young people—and help people who may be struggling to detect early warning signs and seek help early, before Stage 4.

While these risky behaviors are certainly cause to seek help, there is also an enormous amount of people dealing with mental health illnesses who don’t exhibit these behaviors. This can make it so that when they reach out for help, people might not believe that they are actually struggling. So what can you do?

It’s simple: Listen.The common narrative is that people don’t seek out treatment for prevalent issues such as anxiety or depression because they don’t want to be seen as “broken” and they don’t want to admit defeat.

But sometimes, in order for people to cope and make it through the day, they actually become quite productive members of society. They are seen as having it all together. They might not participate in the sorts of risky behaviors outlined above, and you might admire them as someone who gets things done—they couldn’t possibly be sidetracked by things as human as anxiety or depression.

The challenge is, when you are that productive person, and you begin seeking help, people don’t believe you.

  • “You seem fine!”
  • “But there’s nothing wrong with you.”
  • “Look at everything you’ve accomplished!”

What this does is further reinforces to the person that they don’t actually need help. They’re normal—in fact, they’re doing better than the average person. Seeking out help would only take away services from others who are more in need.

When they’re not allowed to initially explore these thoughts with their support group, it can take a much longer time to realize that the façade of productivity is actually a coping mechanism they have created that could be hiding some quite nefarious ailments.

So this Mental Health Month (and every month thereafter), remember to listen. Don’t assume that what you see and know of the other person is all that there is, even if it’s someone you spend a lot of time with. Encourage people to trust themselves and their intuition, and encourage them to seek professional help if they think it would be beneficial, even if you aren’t aware of what they’re struggling with.

Photo: Mental Health America

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