Earlier this month, we celebrated Mental Illness Awareness Week: a yearly observance that highlights mental illness and its treatment. In addition to the general messaging of “You Are Not Alone,” the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) stated that their central theme for MIAW 2020 would be “What People with Mental Illness Want You to Know.” Through social posts, blogs, and conversations, NAMI hopes that mental health professionals and those with a mental illness will share their stories and educate the general public.
There are many misconceptions surrounding these conditions, and we seek to dismantle these. To further our goal of awareness and understanding, we’ve compiled a list of the things that people with mental illness want you to know.
1. Mental Illness Doesn’t Dictate Competence
Many people may believe that those with mental illness struggle at home, work, or school. They might think that depression or anxiety can result in poor performance, and therefore may hesitate to provide major assignments or responsibilities. While challenges exist, people dealing with a diagnosis can thrive in the right work environment. Workplaces with flexible work-from-home policies, mental health days, and healthy management styles can be immensely helpful in finding the right combination of accommodation and challenge for people with mental illness. Those with diagnoses can be the most hardworking, competent employees in a workplace.
2. Your Support and Understanding are Enough
Sometimes, especially right after a diagnosis, friends and family members find themselves at a loss. They may not know the “right” things to say, or how to handle the knowledge that their loved one is in treatment. We want you to recognize that your support and understanding is enough. There are many ways to support someone with a mental health concern, but often, just showing up is the first step. Don’t worry about saying or doing the right things – all you need to do is be there. Hugs, deep conversations, and regular check-ins are always appreciated.
3. It’s Not “All in Our Head”
One of the most harmful stigmas surrounding mental illness is the idea that it is all in your head. People who believe this may also think that depression, anxiety, and trauma can be overcome through sheer willpower alone. In reality, mental illness has a significant physical component. The brain is an organ, and just like your stomach, heart, or lungs, it can develop problems. For example, scientists have found that many mental illnesses have their roots in flawed neurotransmission. In instances of depression, the level of the neurotransmitter serotonin is lower. They have also found that disruptions in dopamine, glutamate, and norepinephrine may be associated with schizophrenia. These deficiencies may be addressed through medication. This research, along with countless other findings, reinforces the fact that mental health concerns are not “all in our head” – they are real conditions requiring clinical intervention.
4. Sometimes Listening is Better Than Suggesting Solutions
When a person has depression, anxiety, PTSD, or another condition, the littlest things can be a challenge. Seeing someone struggle is hard; it can be tempting for loved ones to intervene. You may want to “just do it for them” or give them a talking-to about how to solve all of their problems. Unfortunately, this can often be counterproductive. Your loved one may feel attacked and become defensive, which will affect your relationship and discourage them from following your advice. Sometimes, just listening and providing unconditional love is the most helpful thing you can do.
5. Mental Illness is More Common Than You Think
Finally, a lot of people hold the belief that mental illness is rare. This may have its roots in our parents’ generation, when stigma prevented people from openly discussing their condition or pursuing treatment. In truth, scientists estimate that one in four people is affected by mental illness in some way – it is so common that few American families are untouched by it. It is very unlikely that you know no one without a mental health condition. For this reason, you should be prepared to support your loved ones, in good times and bad.
Mental Health Treatment in Seattle
Lakeside-Milam provides evidence-based mental health treatment in several locations throughout Washington State. Our clinicians work with those who are struggling with a combination of mental illness and a substance use disorder.
- PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)
- Complicated grief
- Dual diagnosis
For people who cannot attend our program in person due to COVID-19, we are offering virtual treatment through a HIPAA-compliant telehealth service. To learn more about our outpatient program for mental illness, please contact us today.