I just read that Nellie Bly’s birthday is in May. I pondered if she was the inspiration for May to become the mental health awareness month, but it seems to just be an interesting coincidence. I always viewed her as a trooper and a big hero – such an important historical figure to remember. With mental health stigma and lack of awareness still being present in our society, her role and work became even more timeless and relevant.
Nellie Bly went undercover by pretending to be mentally ill and get admitted to a mental institution in an effort to report on the treatment of the patients within the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island. She became a pioneer in investigative journalism such as the Spotlight in Boston Globe. I believe that society’s view of and response to mental illnesses can hinder the success of the treatment and such investigations can help to avoid misunderstandings and achieve more effective learning environments.
The purpose of mental health awareness month is to break that stigma and build mental health literacy across our communities. Almost 20% of Americans are suffering from mental health illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. For college students, suicide is the second highest cause of death. Mental health is hard to talk about because of the stigma, resulting in sufferers becoming isolated and unable to receive the treatment they need.
I wanted to share a few ways that you can help someone you care about who is fighting mental illness. It is not easy to know their disturbance, especially if they find it hard to talk about it. Mental illnesses are complex and you may not have the expertise to help as much as a professional, but letting them know that you are there while they go through the process and truly be there helps them believe in themselves, can give courage that they need to discover who they are, what caused their disorder and how they can develop methods to help themselves to become independent and free from their internal struggle. This is important for them to progress and work on themselves.
- Listen Without Judgement
Giving advice on how to cope with depression or mood swings is helpful, but first reserve time to listen and avoid judgement. They could have done the research of what may be their condition or issue, and only need to be able to express themselves while someone they trusts lands their ear.
2. Let Your Friend Share What They Want To Share
If your friend opens up to you, it means they trust you. It takes a lot of courage to do so, so knowing how to respond is important. Keep your questions open ended. Pushing them to tell you more may feel like you are interrogating them, yet telling them that you don’t want to know can seem like you don’t care. It is understandable if you feel uncomfortable. In this case suggesting professional help is a nice way of showing you are there for them as much as you can, even if you’re unable to hear more.
3. Focus on Wellbeing and Motivating Activities to Restore It
People struggling with mental illness may have lost interest in their hobbies and passions, Helping them getting back into those hobbies, or find new ones, can be extremely helpful. Suggesting activities such as meditation and exercise can help to take their mind off of their struggle, and can feel especially good if you offer to accompany them.
If you are unsure how to react or worried that if you say something it may be hurtful, especially if they are sensitive and fragile, a simple check in can go a long way. Asking how they are or letting them know you care can mean more than you realize.