When it comes to mental health awareness and breaking the stigma surrounding mental illness, we’ve made major strides over the past few years. But it’s still difficult to talk about the topic openly.
Whether mental illness affects you, a loved one or a casual acquaintance, starting a discussion about mental health can be difficult, scary, and may very well put you in a vulnerable position.
Germanotta is the co-founder of the Born This Way Foundation, an organization that provides mental health resources, empowers youth and works to create a kinder and more accepting society.
1. Talk about it
For many families, mental health is still a taboo subject, especially when there is a significant generational gap.
After all, no other generation has been so open and so adamant about the need for emotional and mental wellness. If the people around you – whether they are your friends or family – avoid the subject, Cynthia Germanotta advises to bring it up yourself. Maybe those around you don’t realize the importance or need to discuss the subject or feel just as much – if not more – awkwardness and unease.
Starting small, like mentioning an article or one of the many celebrities opening up about the issue, can become a major catalyst in making mental health discussions and emotional wellness check-ins a part of regular family life or friend hangouts. This way, if the time ever comes that a loved one is struggling, there will be a safe environment and already established method of communication to help them through it.
2. Ask for help
Realizing that you need professional help to get through a rough patch is already a major breakthrough. However, asking for the actual help you need is often the most difficult part of your journey, especially in environment that hasn’t approached the subject.
According to Germanotta, whether we are afraid of being judged as weak, dramatic or disappointing, until we take that leap, we can never know how someone will actually react. Those fears may very well be based on internalized shame, guilt, or a direct product of the illness, rather than how our loved ones will react.
If you suspect someone around you is struggling, it’s crucial to approach the subject in a compassionate and non-confrontational way that lets your loved one know you are there to help.
Being able to recognize when someone is struggling emotionally can literally save lives — think of it like CPR. There is a bounty of online resources that can help you educate yourself on recognizing signs and symptoms.
Germanotta recommends MakeItOk.org as a trustworthy resource to provide help and even trainings like the Mental Health First Aid course.
4. Keep talking about it
Even if the first or first few people you approach with your mental health needs dismiss you, don’t give up – keep asking for help.
If your friends and immediate family fail to recognize your needs, ask a neighbor, a teacher, coach, faith leader, doctor, cousin – anybody. Someone will help.
According to Germanotta, if people around you fail to address your need for help, reach out to one of the many online, phone or text services available free of charge, like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, The Bully Project, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and many more. Check out this comprehensive list of hotlines and resources.