As you are reading this, I have just rocked the One Young World Stage and encouraged you all care about something I am deeply passionate about: mental health. I have shared with you my story of living with mental illness to overcome my struggle and live a life where I get the privilege of helping so many other young people living with mental health issues.
I want to equip you with what you can do to remove the stigma and change the conversation around mental health. Here are 5 things you can do to improve the way your society view mental health:
1) Educate yourself about mental health – A lot of misconceptions exist around mental illness. It’s these misconceptions that causes 27% of Canadians are fearful of being around people who suffer from serious mental illness (Canadian Medical Association). Studies show that once depression is recognised, help can make a difference for 80% of people who are affected (CMHA), allowing them to get back to their regular activities. By learning about mental illness and the realities of it – you can help spread accurate information about mental health and change the conversation.
2) Watch what you say – we often use words like crazy, psycho, or nut without thinking about that that actually means. These works refer to negative stereotypes of mental illness that don’t reflect the 1 in 5 people living with mental health concerns around the world (WHO). Instead of insane, say unreal. Instead of Crazy, say unbelievable. Instead of Psycho, say jerk. These simple language changes still communicate what we want to say, without playing on dangerous negative stereotypes that keep people from asking for help.
3) Be Kind and Listen– When I was starting my journey in mental health, one of my mentors asked me how I would know we had removed mental health stigma. I answered “When you know someone is living with a mental illness – but you treat them the same way you would treat any person living with cancer”. Offer support and love. Listen and ask how they are doing. Visit them if they are in the hospital. And always remind them how brave they are for fighting to recover. We need good friends since only 49% of Canadians said they would socialize with a friend who has a serious mental illness(CMA).
4) Talk about it – Talk about mental health at your school, help talk about mental health in your workplace, and in your community. The best way to do this is to share the stories of how mental illness has affected you directly or indirectly (through a friend or family member). If you see someone saying that mental illness isn’t real or some other stigmatizing thing – step in and correct that person. Talk to leaders in your community about what they are doing to address the mental health need in your community. Make sure it’s something they are thinking about and paying attention to. As Kofi Annan said at One Young World last year, “make them listen to you and see you. You are leaders, and that is part of leadership.”
5) Take care of yourself – if you are living with mental health concerns, please don’t be afraid to ask for help. From personal experience, there is an amazing life on the other side of how you are feeling right now. But you have to ask for support and help. I know it’s scary to admit something is wrong, but it’s totally worth it.
Alicia Raimundo is a Delegate Speaker in the Mental Health Plenary Session at the One Young World Summit 2016. Her mission is to empower young people to find and share their opinions on their own health state. She has more than 600 public talks under her belt as well as published literature used throughout Canada's Grade 8 curriculum.