Being a Mental Health Ally

By Dr. Kathryn Brewer, Visiting Assistant Professor of Counseling and Counseling Psychology and Co-Chair of RoosForMentalHealth

The RoosForMentalHealth campaign was launched in November 2019 with the hope to help cure the stigma related to mental health by increasing awareness of important and common issues.  Mental health issues impact everyone, directly or indirectly. In that we all have mental health, working towards mental wellness is the goal.

Our campaign creates opportunities and provides resources to enhance proactive self-care strategies among students, staff, and faculty.  We do this through virtual Lunch-n-Learn programs, tabling across campus, and providing resources on our website.  We also provide guidance on how to recognize distress in others and how to respond when necessary.  Additionally, we emphasize the importance of wellness by providing education regarding connections between mental health and sleep, physical activity, nutrition, relationships, and more.  We also held our first annual Mental Health Mile color-walk earlier this semester.  Over 250 students, staff, and faculty attended.  We received numerous feedback indicating it was a positive experience, especially for those who do struggle with mental health issues, stating they felt more supported and acknowledged on campus.  This is our hope – to normalize mental health issues, as they truly do impact everyone.

We have a long road ahead as there is a great deal of stigma associated with mental health.  I think there are many reasons for this, primarily is the portrayal in mass media of mental health issues.  This socialized view gives everyone the wrong idea and creates fear, invalidation, and offers too much misinformation.  I think another important factor adding to the stigma is that people have negative reactions to things they don’t understand.  Increasing awareness and knowledge, from reputable sources, is key.  We have more on our webpage about this… https://info.umkc.edu/roosformentalhealth/end-the-stigma/.

We need more mental health allies at UMKC if we are truly going to fight stigma and increase awareness about mental health.  Being a mental health ally comes with two main responsibilities.  The first is to encourage more people to join the mission to cure stigma related to mental health for everyone.  The second is for these allies to take the responsibility of noticing others around them.  Stigma is fought one person at a time.  When considering how best to help someone, the best piece of advice I can give: say something!  Too many people assume someone else will, so they don’t say anything when they notice someone hurting or struggling.  Or, they don’t know what to say, so they don’t say anything.  How you approach the situation and what you say will greatly depend on the relationship you have with that person.  But in general, listening without judgment is important and letting the person know they are not alone.  Listed are some great resources that provide guidance on helping others:

https://www.asklistenrefer.org/umkc

https://info.umkc.edu/roosformentalhealth/resources/

https://seizetheawkward.org/

https://bringchange2mind.org/talk/talk-tool/

For more information about our campaign including wellness topics, mental health resources, self-care tips, recorded Lunch-n-Learn programs, and more, check out our website at https://info.umkc.edu/roosformentalhealth/.  Our live virtual Lunch-n-Learn programs this semester, including topics such as the role social media plays in body image, Health at Every Size, mindfulness techniques, men and mental health, bridging the gap for people of color seeking mental health services, cultural self-awareness, and the science of unconscious bias, will be posted on RooGroups and our website as they are scheduled.