Karen Koski-Miller is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and the Disaster Mental Health Senior Associate for the American Red Cross. In her role, she manages the Disaster Mental Health program for the organization.
During the last 18 years of my career in the social work field, I’ve witnessed a clear shift in attitudes toward mental health. Although we have made progress in this area, there is still a stigma surrounding mental health issues in the U.S. and in different cultures across the world. This World Mental Health Day, I want to share five things that will help you become more mindful in your relationships with others and with yourself.
Know that Having a Mental Illness Does Not Define a Person
One in five individuals in the U.S. has or will be diagnosed with a mental illness. With that in mind it’s important to remember that although a person may have a mental illness, their illness does not define who they are as a person, which leads me to my next point.
We Can All Reframe How We Speak About Mental Illness
When speaking about mental illnesses, it’s helpful to think of them kind of like physical illnesses. So instead of saying someone is bipolar, you could say that someone has bipolar disorder, similar to how you would say that someone has chronic migraines. You wouldn’t say that a person is chronic migraines. Reframing how we speak about mental illness and the people who have them could help decrease the stigma around mental health issues across the board.
Really Listen to Your Friends and Family
Sadly, approximately every 40 seconds, someone loses their life to suicide. If you come across a loved one you think may be suicidal and want to help, it’s important for you to show compassion. Let them know that they are not alone and that there are people who care about them. If you learn that they have a plan or the means to commit suicide, call 9-1-1 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) as soon as possible.
Focus on Strengths
People who have mental health issues need to be reminded of their strengths. I know this is a point that we all can relate to. Always encourage people to recognize what they’ve accomplished instead of focusing on what they’re lacking. The fact that a person can reach out to someone, whether that be a friend, family member or a mental health professional, to talk about how they’re feeling or what they’re experiencing is a big step in the right direction.
Help is Available
If you’re having difficulty with mental health issues, always remember that help is available. There are a variety of organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration that can help. If you’ve recently been impacted by a disaster, Red Cross mental health volunteers out in the community and at Red Cross shelters can help provide residents with emotional support and connect them to much needed resources. And here are Red Cross tips that can help and your loved ones emotionally recover.