Millions of Americans are affected by mental health conditions every year. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. — 43.8 million, or 18.5 percent — experiences mental illness in a given year; and we know this is increasingly an issue with America’s youth.
While there are effective treatments available, many individuals with known mental health issues never seek help from a professional due to stigma, discrimination, a lack of resources, or a combination of all three. Even if you don’t struggle with mental illness, you have the opportunity to inspire others to raise awareness and take part in the sharing of information, tools, and support for mental health issues. You can make a legitimate difference and help change the narrative from negative to one of positive affirmation.
Mental health affects nearly everyone — whether or not they are personally living with a mental health condition, care about someone who does, or just want to get more involved — and there are many ways you can help.
Ways You Can Help in the Mental Health Field
Take on a career path where you can make a positive, lasting impact
If you’re interested in pursuing a career in mental health, there are a number of fields that offer an opportunity to provide care to those afflicted. Consider a future in counseling, psychology, psychiatry, social work, or nursing.
If you’re interested in becoming a mental health professional, start by considering where you are in your career and what specialty field you’d like to join. Some important questions include: Do you have the requisite education to work in the field of mental health or psychotherapy? (most roles for therapists require a master’s degree) What are your salary expectations? What population do you hope to work with?
Talk about mental health more openly
Talk to those around you about how they are feeling, and take the time to truly listen. Check in regularly, especially if you know they are under strain or dealing with a mental illness.
Keep the conversation going
As mentioned above, stigma and discrimination are two of the biggest obstacles to a productive public dialogue about mental health — but that can change the way we talk about health. We can’t just focus on heart health, brain health or kidney health, without considering whole-body health. We have to see the full person and make use of the tools and resources that benefit minds and bodies together.
Don’t leave children out of it
Kids are naturally curious and have questions about everything, including mental health. Adults can help children understand that mental illnesses are real illnesses that can be treated. You can be a part of changing the conversation for future generations.
Share mental health screening sites on your social media channels
Taking a mental health screening is one of the fastest ways to determine whether you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition. Most people don’t know these exist, however. Since screenings are beneficial tools for everyone — both for those who may think they have a mental illness and for those who don’t— gather a list of screening sites and share them with your social network. It helps to raise the awareness around mental health issues and offers your followers a tangible first step that could change someone’s life.
Learn the signs and symptoms of various mental health illnesses
Mental illness can take many forms and therefore be hard to identify. As a result, many who could benefit from professional treatment don’t get the help they need as quickly as they should, if at all. Understanding the warning signs and how you can help your loved one cope once they’re receive a diagnosis will help decrease the number of people who suffer in silence without advocates.
Participate in local advocacy efforts to support and expand mental health legislation
Policy change is a big, impactful way you can make a difference in the lives of those living with mental health conditions and those that support them. Consider voting for candidates who highlight improving mental health in their platforms. You can also get in touch with your local government officials and encouraging them to officially recognize national mental health awareness events or pass legislation that will provide better access to care..
You Can Be Rewarded For Your Efforts
Every year, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Healthline offers scholarships to those dedicated to the advancement of mental health, either through research, raising awareness, community building, or by combating stigma. This year the program will award four students with a $5,000 scholarship each. There will be two scholarships awarded to undergraduates making an impact in the field of mental health, and two scholarships awarded to graduate recipients. Click here for eligibility information and to apply.
Every person can play an important role in helping someone with a mental illness feel comfortable. Have open conversations and encourage those who need it to seek support. Being an advocate, raising awareness, and taking action in support of mental health conditions can break down barriers and improve the well-being of millions of people.
Now that you know how you can make a real difference in people’s lives across the US, what will you do to help?