You may have heard the saying that “April showers bring May flowers.” Let’s take a moment to think of your mind as an unwatered flower. When you take the time to water yourself, you can flourish and grow into the person you need to be. This can lead to you feeling empowered, accomplished, or even on top of the world. 

However, you may question, “How do I water myself?” In actuality, there is no “one size fits all” solution, but rather a tailored playbook that you can adapt for yourself. For many people this includes self-care, being organized, working out, meditating, yoga, or even taking time to watch TV. For some, it could be a little harder to get there, and it may include things outside of self-care or accountability. This could be especially true for a person with a mental illness. 

There is unfortunately a stigma associated with the words “mental illness” and “mental health.” Words such as “crazy” or “weird” may immediately come to mind. This leads to additional stigma, or in turn, may label the topic as taboo altogether. When you look at the definition of mental illness, which includes a wide range of conditions that affect mood, thinking, and behavior, this does not seem crazy or weird at all. Having a bad lunch, breaking up with your significant other, or even losing a loved one can affect your mood, thinking, and behavior. So let’s talk about ways you can be an ally for mental health rather than a part of the problem. 

Here are 5 ways to grow your skills as an Ally!

  1. Educate yourself, and along the way educate others. 

A big part of the problem is not understanding what mental illness is and the differences between disorders. The severity levels between conditions like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Schizophrenia are different and deserve to be understood as such. 

2. Ask how you can help!

Everyone is different, but many people struggling with mental illness don’t ask for help. If you notice a loved one is struggling, reach out to them with compassion to see how you can help. From personal experience, I have a strong tendency to never ask for help. People around me always notice before I am fully aware. Using statements such as “Hey, I’ve noticed … what can I do to help?” or “How have you been doing today?” are very good segways for helping me to open up. 

3. Listen. But do it with empathy! 

There is such a huge difference between listening to someone and hearing them. Listening is even more powerful when you do so with empathy. Someone’s situation is not yours, so listening to their feelings and experience is a big deal. You can never truly know how difficult it is for someone to open up and share, so be empathetic and make them feel supported. Be careful with your word choices as well to ensure you are empathetic. Always avoid generalizations such as “It’s just a bad day” or “It’s not the end of the world”.

4. Take care of your own mental health. 

You are just as important as anyone else, and it is impossible to take care of someone else when you aren’t taking care of yourself. If you have a bed full of flowers but consistently only give water and sunlight to 3 out of 4 plants, those 3 will be the only one growing. You must water yourself along with others, not instead of. Do things that make you whole; you are your biggest advocate. 

5. Speak Up and Out!

Mental Health is a concern for everyone, not just people who have mental illnesses. Pay attention to the news and legislation, be an active bystander against injustice, and support those who have an illness. It can be as simple as supporting a friend, posting on social media, or you can go big and host educational programming.

If you suffer from a mental illness please know you are not alone. I have been diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Depression, and every day is a challenge but I am healthy and whole. It can be difficult to admit you are struggling but create a tribe of people that uplift and support you. That could be your biggest gift to yourself. You are not broken, bad, or damaged but instead whole, unique and have a little extra personality. I stand with you and support you! If you ever need someone to talk to you can email me. I’ll respond!  

To end, here are some of my favorite quotes to read when I need a little extra sparkle!

One small crack does not mean that you are broken, it means that you were put to the test and you didn’t fall apart.

Linda Poindexter

Sometimes the people around you won’t understand your journey. They don’t need to, it’s not for them.

Joubert Botha

You don’t have to be positive all the time. It’s perfectly okay to feel sad, angry, annoyed, frustrated, scared and anxious. Having feelings doesn’t make you a negative person. It makes you human.

Lori Deschene

This post was submitted by Taylor Outler (Chi).