That Conversation About Mental Illness
People with mental illness need the support of friends and family to reach recovery. When we lack hope, we need yours. When we isolate ourselves, we need you to pull us out. When we lack the motivation to take care of ourselves, we need your encouragement. But most of all, we just need you to be there for us. Sadly, too many people with mental illness have nobody to turn to. They often become estranged from their friends and family. Mental illness breaks too many friends and families apart when these relationships may be most needed. Stigma and lack of understanding may be the biggest culprits. We hope our video will help friends and families just be there for their loved ones and realize the impact they can have. We also hope that in some small way it will encourage old friends to reach out to their friends who may have gone silent. They may be suffering with mental illness alone and could need the help.
That Conversation About Mental Illness
It is not uncommon for people with mental illness to blame themselves for their illness, to think it’s all their fault. We hear it in our thoughts and the comments of others. We have heightened sensitivity and are highly prone to self-criticism. Great care and caution must be taken when speaking to someone with mental illness. Each person has their own experiences and sensitivities. Below are some of the things you might avoid saying if you wish to start that conversation about mental illness.
Mental Health Peer Support
Peer support is an evidence-based approach, which has been shown to have a positive impact on a wide range of mental illness outcomes. For example, it has a positive impact on hope, empowerment, recovery, and quality of life. Peer support can also result in higher levels of engagement with care and self-care, lower levels of inpatient service use, and better relationships with service providers. Some peer-based interventions have also been shown to reduce anxiety and depression in specific demographics. We know this because we had the great pleasure of collaborating with Professor Larry Davidson, Yale University, School of Medicine, the leading scholar in Mental Health Recovery, to examine these and other research findings on the effectiveness of peer support.
Online Peer Support
Online peer support may be highly beneficial especially when used as a complement to in-person peer support. This is particularly apparent in the early stages of mental illness, when people are often highly reluctant to speak publicly about their mental illness. This situation keeps many people with mental illness silent, isolated, and withdrawn. They often feel that nobody could possibly relate to what they are going through.
At ForLikeMinds we offer people living with mental illness and supporters the opportunity to connect anonymously with each other in a free, safe, and convenient place. They see that they are not alone, that others can relate.
We are proud that we are the only platform to allow for highly relatable connections based on mental illness, substance use, stressful life events, and demographic attributes. You can learn more in our explanatory blog post. We are also very proud to be the only online platform catering to the needs of supporters. We feel that one of the greatest contributions we can make to people living with mental illness is to help improve relationships and communication with supporters. We want to help bring families closer together, because we feel, as was our experience, that mental illness is a battle for families to fight together. A person with mental illness should not have to fight this battle alone.
Since our launch during Mental Illness Awareness Week in 2018, we’ve been spreading hope to a community of thousands. Our Recovery Journey Video has been viewed nearly 100,000 times in just 6 months on Facebook, offering a real-life example that recovery is possible. People on our platform have identified over 100 mental health conditions, over 40 substance use conditions, and over 150 stressful life events. We hope you’ll join our thriving community.
In-Person Peer Support
In-person peer support is invaluable. The human contact and connections are highly beneficial. In-person support should be a natural evolution from our online community which makes the initial steps of connecting easier. It can also be a complement to online connections. There may still be some topics that some people may feel uncomfortable speaking about in-person. Each modality has its benefits and can work well together in reaching and maintaining recovery. We strongly support in-person peer support and hope that our members will also seek this modality of peer support.
Connecting without regard for mental illness
While we believe it is highly beneficial for people with mental illness to connect with other people living with mental illness, it is also important to connect with other people based on interests. People with mental illness must always remember that, while mental illness may be a part of us, it is not all of us — we are not our diagnosis. When a person returns to the people, places, and things that brought meaning and happiness to their lives before their diagnosis, they are reminded of this. It helps them maintain their identity. They may become engaged in activities, meet new people.
When I started to emerge from the depths of my depression, I turned to online mental health peer support, but I also returned to something that had always nurtured me in the past — learning. Rather than sleep the day away as I had been doing, I pursued and completed over 50 online mental health related courses. It was my way of coping with my mental illness, which gave me a sense of accomplishment with each course I completed. I learned a lot and remained myself within the boundaries of my mental illness. I then emerged from the confines of my home to pursue in-person courses. I earned credentials along the way such as becoming a New York Certified Peer Specialist-Provisional and Certified Psychiatric Rehabilitation Practitioner.
I would encourage everyone with mental illness to seek out the activities they have always enjoyed whether it be a job, volunteer work, or a hobby. Mental illness may even create new and more fulfilling life goals grounded for many of us in our experiences from being part of a marginalized community. This was my personal experience and the experience of many people I have met with mental illness. People with mental illness comprise 1/5 of the population. We must not cut ourselves off from the remaining 4/5 of the population who also need us and all that we have to offer.
Recovery allows us to imagine all the possibilities and to take back control of our lives, slowly at first but gathering strength over time. We gain a deeper appreciation of what life should be. Mental illness may take a lot away from us, but the struggle can ultimately help bring us closer to understanding the meaning of our lives.
Sharing Lived Experience
I have always loved to share my experiences good and bad to help people like me get and stay on their recovery journey. I hope my writing has had this impact, even if only on one reader. I’ve also learned a lot from the feedback I’ve received. I think it’s critically important for those of us with mental illness to share our experiences. Too often others speak for us. We must speak for ourselves and give others a true glimpse of our victories and struggles.
I am most proud to have several of my articles published in the country’s leading mental health blog, the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ Blog: The Power to Create Change Comes from Within, The Stages of My Mental Illness, Coping with Mental Illness: What Not To Do and That Time in the Psych Ward. I was honored to have my First Person Account: Stigma, Meet Hope published in Schizophrenia Bulletin, a leading medical academic peer reviewed journal.
I also wrote about my initial reluctance to becoming a mental health advocate in my article in the Stability Network blog: Being Our Own Mental Health Advocate. Very meaningfully for me, for the past year, I have been delighted to serve on the Board of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of New York City and thrilled to be participating in the upcoming NAMIWalks NYC (pleasure my fundraising efforts) to benefit valuable mental health programs. I’ve also had articles published in bpHope, Psychology Today, and Thrive Global.
Spreading the Word
I’ve been working very hard to spread the word on ForLikeMinds. We also need your help to help us help as many people as possible. I’ve been active on Facebook, our followers have been growing quickly and are very engaged. I try to keep my posts inspirational and informational. Please follow us to keep up-to-date. Please ask your friends and family to follow us, and more importantly, please ask them to join us on ForLikeMinds. We would be extremely grateful if you could share our flyer far and wide with others who you think might have an interest in and benefit from ForLikeMinds.
Please help us spread hope.
Thank you for taking the time to read our newsletter.
We Are LikeMinds