Millennial’s are in a unique place to enact change in our world — they have the tools, the information, and the sheer numbers to make a difference. This huge group includes anyone born between 1981 and 1996. They share some distinct experiences. Almost all millennial’s can clearly remember the 9/11 terrorist attacks and were alive to witness the societal changes it involved, or at least witness the impact it had on their parents and families. Millennial’s learned to use computers as young children and participated in the beginnings of social media. Because of the internet, this group has had infinitely more access to information than their predecessors. They have also grown up in the shadows of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, school shooting crises and increasingly polarised political parties. Pew Research found that millennial’s are a more ethnically and racially diverse group than any other US group before them. They were between ages 12 and 27 during the time that our first black president was elected, and are a huge voice in supporting equality for all people. With all of these traits and experiences, millennial’s are uniquely positioned to help make some real changes in the way our country views and handles mental health issues, as well. Here are a few key ways this generation can make a difference:
1. Educate yourself.
Yeah, yeah, everyone knows about mental illness, addiction, etc., right? Well, there is always more to learn. New advances in neuroscience are appearing all the time. We all have a brain, so it’s a good idea to learn as much about this fascinating organ as possible. Take time to truly understand motivation and behaviour. It’ll help you in every part of your life, and help you really understand why your parents act the way they do, which will help you learn more about yourself and your friends, your colleagues and your bosses. While you are at it, learn as much as you can about the links between physical health and mental health. Many mental health concerns stem from and relate back to physical health. Your brain is part of your body, after all.
2. It’s all in the language.
Our everyday language forms how our society views the world. Millennial’s are usually very good at describing their emotions and being aware of health and mental health conditions in general. Despite that, derogatory terms still creep in, and many of us are guilty of name-calling or using hurtful language when we are angry or not thinking. When you call someone “crazy,” consider what that label really means to people who have a mental health diagnosis. Don’t be that guy! “You are not your illness! I hate it when people say, ‘I’m being so bipolar’ or ‘I’m OCD about such and such.’ You can’t be any of those things. You can have OCD or BPD, but you are not them. They do not define you. You are still you, and you’re probably pretty awesome. Just like living with HIV, lupus, diabetes, etc., you LIVE WITH bipolar disorder, you MANAGE it.” – Tim Z.
3. Stand up against shaming and stigma.
This one is easy. It’s easy to stand up against shaming or stigma when we see it — and you can do it without sounding like a know-it-all or igniting a flame war. If you see someone giving wrong information or judging others, say something, or simply point out that many situations are not always easy to label or judge from a distance. If all else fails, change the subject. Just don’t feed the trolls. Sometimes it’s a good idea to quietly pull someone aside or gently but clearly send a helpful link with a supportive statement like, “I used to not know about this condition myself, but this link might be helpful.” You can also stand up by getting active. There are a few really fun walk/runs designed to raise awareness and bring people together who care about the cause. Two great organisations that offer these events are Heroes In Recovery and NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). These events are more than just a run and often include live music, community-building and other festivities.
4. Be a friend.
Do you know someone who is struggling? Send a text. Have coffee with that person. Reach out, if you can. Messages of encouragement and support don’t have to address mental health directly. They can simply say, “Hi, friend!” or share a funny meme. Or extend an invitation to a group gathering already in the works (even if you know that person is not able to attend, an invitation can help boost morale).
5. Let the media know if they are contributing to the problem.
EVERYONE is on social media these days. Social media and customer relations are a big deal for corporations. The gift of this ever-present force is that we can simply send an email, reach out and have our opinions heard. If you see something that isn’t right, feel that a media outlet is creating shame around mental illness or see where the media has neglected important information about where people can get support, let them know!
6. Get out there and VOTE.
If you aren’t already involved in or well-educated about the healthcare situation in our country, it’s time to get on that bandwagon and get informed. Healthcare includes mental health too. If you feel that people should receive more therapy and have counsellors available, push to advocate for mental health professionals. Fight against understaffed hospitals and exhausted workers. Ask your representatives to bring more mental healthcare into schools. Push to have insurance provide payments to counsellors and social workers at liveable wages. If millennial’s reach out in high numbers, they are more likely to make these changes at a grass-roots level.
7. Take care of yourself too.
If you don’t take care of you, how can you make a greater difference? The more you know about mental health, the more you will know about you. Everyone can benefit from a counsellor from time to time. All of this advocacy starts within yourself. Embrace yourself just as you are, because erasing the stigma begins with you.
Note: This is a guest post written by Heroes in Recovery. Heroes in Recovery has a simple mission: to eliminate the social stigma that keeps individuals with addiction and mental health issues from seeking help, to share stories of recovery for the purpose of encouragement and inspiration, and to create an engaged sober community that empowers people to get involved, give back, and live healthy, active lives.