World Mental Health Day 2016: Psychological First Aid

Today is World Mental Health Day. One day? Yes, ONE. One day CAN matter. If we call would just take ONE DAY to raise awareness about mental health issues, we could all reach ONE person and that ONE person might be THE person who needed to talk about mental health issues.

This year's World Mental Health Day theme is Psychological First Aid. We often find ourselves at a ground zero of sorts when it comes to mental health issues. Shame, stigma, ignorance, lack of access to services, etc., are just some of the things that keep people from getting the help they need until WHAM - the crisis and chaos hits. HARD. Some describe it as slamming into a brick wall going 100 miles per hour.

OUCH! Sounds like a situation that requires some serious first aid to me!

World Mental Health Day is about knowledge. The World Health Organization has this to say...

"Learning the basic principles of psychological first aid will help you to provide support to people who are very distressed, and, importantly, to know what not to say." WHO

You know what you CAN say to a person struggling with mental illness or a family member of a mentally ill person? You can say...

I am here for you
I will help you find the support you need
You are NOT alone

When we know what to do, we can do it. When we know the enemy, we can choose the right weapons to fight it. When we respond immediately - FIRST AID - we have a better chance of helping people with mental illness self advocate, self assess, and accept themselves as they are. We can all learn to reframe our attitudes about mental illness. Did you know that...

"Mental health conditions are common among teens and young adults. 1 in 5 live with a mental health condition—half develop the condition by age 14 and three quarters by age 24." NAMI

Does that scare you? If it does, it's probably because you feel helpless and ignorant. That is where fear comes from, you know? I'd like to encourage you to reframe your thoughts about mental illness, to conquer your fear and see and approach mental illness in a new way.

REFRAMING! Whaaaaat?

Simply put, reframing is the process of identifying an irrational or negative thought and seeing it a different way and/or finding more positive alternatives. Sort of like this...

PREACH!

PREACH!

Normal doesn't exist, but still we try to fit, to act "okay" so that others won't think less of us for having mental health struggles. A healthy level of conformity is good, yes, but when we are talking about a person in a mental health crisis, conforming just isn't an option. It's okay if you are not okay. Eventually you will be okay, but until that day, it's okay to look at your struggle with mental illness as something that is okay in the this is not something to be ashamed of way.

Reframing society's attitudes about mental illness is and has always been an uphill battle. Myths and ignorance abound!

ADHD is a made up thing...
People could snap out of depression if they wanted to...
Mental illness isn't real...
Mentally ill people are hopeless cases...
Prayer can heal mental illness...
Mentally ill people are criminals...
Mentally illness can be prevented...

Wait...that last one has some truth! With knowledge and early intervention, some types of mental illness can be lessened and maybe even prevented! Of course some can't, but WOW! KNOWLEDGE IS POWER! (And by the way, that second to last myth about mentally ill people being criminals? Well, sure there is truth to that, but you know what else is true? People with mental illness are more likely to be victims of crime and violence than perpetrators of it.)

Psychological First Aid is a LOT different than physical First Aid because the wounds are harder to see and harder to treat. Notice I didn't say impossible...

So tomorrow (or today if you are reading this on October 13th), I'm asking you to be aware. To reach out. To talk to ONE person about mental illness. Maybe you need to talk to yourself, to tell yourself that it's okay not to be okay today, and that it's okay to seek out some psychological first aid.

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