Nearly 1 in 5 American adults experiences a mental health condition during an average year. Additionally, about half of Americans will meet the criteria for a mental health condition at some point during their lifetime.
Many people struggle with their conditions in silence. They don’t know where to turn or how to ask for help, and they often feel afraid of rejection or potential consequences. This problem can result in numerous issues, including exacerbated mental health problems, severed family dynamics, lost productivity, financial distress.
Treatment and medication play critical roles in tackling mental health issues. However, the importance and necessity of being properly educated on mental health cannot be overstated.
Mental health education provides necessary awareness and resources for individuals and their loved ones. It helps break the stigma associated with mental health. Additionally, it can promote efforts for treatment and recovery.
How to Get Educated on Mental Health?
Mental health education entails many various components. It can be either informal or formal, and it doesn’t necessarily require a specific curriculum.
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While there are many areas to mental health education, the following are a good place to start:
- Support and Advocacy
Psychoeducation refers to the informational part of mental health education. It includes teaching people about the risk factors and symptoms associated with various mental health conditions.
Psychoeducation can be tailored for various audiences. For example, employers may need different education than educators or healthcare workers, and children often benefit from specialized, age-appropriate language.
For example, if you want to provide accurate psychoeducation about depression, you might try to teach someone:
- The common symptoms of depression
- Causes or risk factors of depression
- When to get help
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Psychoeducation also includes debunking some of the common myths associated with mental illness. Despite making headway in mental health awareness, many myths continue to prevail. Some common ones include:
- “Mental illness isn’t real. It’s all in your head.”
- “Therapy is for crazy people.”
- “You just need to try being happier or more grateful.”
- “Mental illness is selfish.”
- “If you have good friends, you don’t need therapy.”
- “People with mental illnesses just lack willpower.”
- “If I ask someone if they are suicidal, they may feel more of an urge to hurt themselves.”
- “People with eating disorders just need to eat.”
- “People with anxiety or depression just need to get over it.”
- “You only need medication if you have a really serious problem.”
Comprehensive education also includes understanding the appropriate resources available to people who need support. Treatment is multifaceted, and it may include information about:
- Virtual support groups
- Individual or family therapy
- Inpatient or residential treatment facilities
If you are a mental health ally, obtaining information about treatment can be invaluable. Sometimes, people make the decision very quickly to seek help. However, they may change their minds just as fast. If you have the resources available, you can offer the support they need.
To learn more about treatment in your area, you can search online or chat with local health professionals. Additionally, most hospitals and nonprofit facilities have pertinent information.
Remember that treatment options vary depending on the specific condition, finances, and individual life circumstances. There is no ultimate, one-size-fits-all solution, and some people need to try several different options before finding the one that works best for their recovery.
Active Role in Providing Support and Advocacy
Supporting mental health means taking an active interest in treatment, recovery, and individual growth. It also means accepting the condition for what it is instead of clinging to the idea of an impossible cure.
Providing support means:
- Practicing active listening when talking to the other person.
- Striving to be nonjudgmental and curious about their individual experiences.
- Finding hope and strength, even if they struggle with these concepts.
- Setting healthy boundaries that honor your integrity and needs.
Advocacy entails becoming active in recovery efforts. Although our society has made profound efforts in breaking barriers to mental health, we still have a tremendous way to go.
Becoming a mental health advocate can include taking on many different roles. Some considerations include:
- Attending awareness events and showing your support.
- Politely correcting people when they use stigmatizing or negative language about mental health.
- Speaking out about mental health and treatment.
- Volunteering for a mental health organization or non-profit.
Advocacy is a lifelong process. It isn’t just about attending one event; it’s about making a conscious effort to speak out against stigmatization and be an ally for people who need it most.
The Benefits of Early Education and Intervention
Mental health starts during infancy. Babies react to their environments, and their sense of safety relies on how people respond to them. This trend persists throughout our entire life. As our personalities emerge, we start developing specific needs, preferences, and sensitivities.
As children grow up, they receive countless messages about self-esteem, well-being, and mental health. This time can be tumultuous. Many mental health symptoms first emerge by adolescence, but many adults miss the key warning signs that their children are struggling.
This oversight occurs because people often misunderstand symptoms. They may assume that a child will simply “grow out of something” or that unwanted behavior is “just a phase.” Or, the child may not vocalize their experience because they aren’t sure how- or because the shame feels too immense.
Early mental health education and intervention can be key for children getting the support they need. Intervention can help target issues immediately, which can reduce their intensity.
The Benefits of Avoiding Stigmatizing Language and Assumptions
To truly integrate mental health education into daily existence, we all need to be conscious of how we speak and behave with others. Let’s review some common mistakes people often make.
Saying Someone Is a ____
Labeling someone by their mental health reduces them to their condition. Instead of saying he is a schizophrenic or she is anorexic, it’s much better to say, they have been diagnosed with ___, or they experience ____. Another commonly used phrase is, they are living with depression.
Using Words Like “Crazy,” “Mad,” or “Psychotic”
These terms all have negative connotations associated with them. They reinforce stigma and essentially shame the person who might be experiencing distress.
Using Words Like “Happy Pills,” “Shrinks,” or “Insane Asylums”
Although these may be common colloquialisms, these terms can have damaging stigmas associated with them. Instead, it’s better to simply identify each treatment method for what it is: antidepressants, mental health professionals, residential treatment facilities, etc.
How Mental Health Education Impacts:
Mental health problems often emerge as behavioral problems in the school setting. The child with anxiety might not finish his homework or speak up in class. The child with depression may present as irritable and bully other children on the playground.
Some key warning signs of mental health problems manifesting in school include:
- Suddenly changing friend groups or not wanting to spend time with people at all.
- Becoming combative in class.
- Pushing boundaries in class and at recess.
- Missing school frequently.
- Frequently complaining of feeling il.
- No longer caring about schoolwork.
- Suddenly struggling with particular classes.
Ideally, teachers and other education personnel should receive adequate training in mental health. These individuals spend so much time with young children- they may see them more than the child’s own parents.
Moreover, schools benefit from having on-site clinical staff to support children. Depending on the school, this staff may include a licensed therapist, school counselor, or school psychologist. These professionals should be available to meet with the student and coordinate treatment with the parents and teacher as needed.
Healthcare providers work hard to keep their patients healthy. That said, health is both physical and emotional. Both spheres rely on one another. Therefore, neglecting one can have a profound effect on the other.
Healthcare providers often build intimate relationships with their patients. Patients often trust them with their lives and look to them for guidance.
Depending on the specialty, some providers have comprehensive information about their patients’ livelihoods. This information can help them make the appropriate referrals for mental health treatment.
Healthcare providers must understand that it’s okay to provide basic education about mental health. For example, it’s normal to feel stressed from time to time. But if a provider observes a patient presenting as chronically depressed or anxious, it’s worth asking if they’ve had a recent mental health screening.
Stress and mental health conditions can impact workplace productivity and employee satisfaction. Research shows that depression hinders an individual’s ability to finish physical tasks about 20% of the time, and it can also worsen cognitive performance about 35% of the time.
That said, employees often hesitate to speak out about mental health. They may fear retaliation or financial consequences, like getting laid-off or fired.
Workplaces have an ethical responsibility to ensure the well-being of their staff. Comprehensive mental health education should ideally include:
- Ability to access mental health self-assessment tools.
- Health insurance subsidies for mental health treatment.
- Education and resources about mental health services.
- Seminars or training focused on stress management and self-care.
- Enforce and praise employees for taking vacation or days off.
- Realistic after-hours communication that honors employees’ time.
- Offering creative wellness programs or retreats.
Supervisors and management can model mental health by prioritizing their own mental health. For example, if a boss commits to a reasonable schedule and takes routine vacations, he conveys the significance of maintaining a work-life balance.
Simply listening to staff and asking about what they value in a workplace can make a difference. Many times, management thinks they inherently know what people want. This, of course, isn’t always the case.
That’s why it’s important to ask for feedback from your staff. By cultivating a positive work environment, management has a happier and more productive team. It’s a win-win for everyone.
On a Societal Level
Societal awareness means recognizing the impact of mental health on major systems. It also means understanding how macro-level change can impact individual growth.
The more we can promote mental health awareness on a universal level, the more resources and support people will have for treatment. It’s a prosocial dynamic- when people take care of their mental health, everyone benefits.
That said, problems with mental health awareness start at the top. For instance, if someone commits a crime, offering rehabilitative treatment instead of slapping a harsh jail sentence can actually promote a sense of change. Similarly, creating laws that honor mental health advocacy and education can help keep treatment accessible and affordable for everyone.
With statistics showing that so many people struggle with mental health, this awareness is paramount. Nobody is immune. Even if they don’t experience a mental health condition, they probably know someone who does. If we want to be a compassionate, productive society, we need to continue talking and working through this issue.
Family, Friends, & Loved Ones
It can be painful and confusing to watch a loved one struggle with their mental health. You may feel confused, sad, or angry. You might also feel uncertain about what you should do or how you can help support them.
As a loved one, awareness means educating yourself on someone’s condition. This awareness contains several parts. First, you should strive to learn as much as you can about what your loved one might be experiencing. This learning comes from talking to them directly and also from reading up on the condition.
It’s also essential to enforce positive language around your loved one. For example, you want to avoid using any slurs, derogatory language, or generalized assumptions- the wrong words can be damaging and stigmatizing. They can trigger immense shame and anger.
Don’t be afraid to ask your loved one what you can do to best support them. It’s okay if you don’t have all the answers. But you can still be open-minded and willing to learn from them.
Mental health education remains an essential topic in mainstream society. We need to continue having conversations about this issue. Destigmatization is essential for growth.
To achieve this goal, we also continue advocating and raising awareness about the importance of intervention and treatment.