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How to be a mental health ally

Learning is the key to our empathy and compassion. 
January 27, 2022 9:21 a.m. EST
January 27, 2022 9:21 a.m. EST

In the past, some people might have believed that mental health was only a concern for those with mental illnesses, but the reality is that everyone will face difficult situations that challenge their mental health. Awareness, accessibility, and allyship are all vital when it comes to understanding and navigating mental health. Psychotherapist Tenniel Brown shared her five tips on how you can help to normalize the conversation and become an ally for those in your life. 

Take A Course 

Take a course to help you understand the importance of navigating mental health. Learning about some of the different mental health diagnoses and the importance of language will help to destigmatize conversations we might be reluctant to have when it comes to our wellbeing. 

Learn Anti-oppressive Language 

You never know what someone is going through just by looking at them. Being a mental health ally means being conscious of your language and word choice in a variety of situations and conversations, not just around people who you know have a mental illness. For example, calling someone "insane" makes light of mental illness and devalues the experiences of people who have lived with mental illnesses. 

Avoid using terms like “crazy” or “mad”. If you’re talking about a situation, think of other descriptive words, like “hectic” or “chaotic”, and if you’re talking about a person you could try words like “distressed” or “angry”.  

Learn Your Own Triggers 

When anyone is looking to be an ally, one of the things to recognize is that you may have different triggers that come up. One of the main triggers for people living with a loved one suffering from their mental health is control. You want to do something about it or to fix the problem. If this is happening to you, remember to have compassion and love for yourself. Find nurturing and supportive ways to satisfy that need for control, without actually controlling your loved one.

Have a Safety Plan 

The first piece of becoming a mental health ally is listening, but the second is just as important, and that is planning. It's crucial to recognize that we may be in times of severe distress, so one thing you can do as an ally is in those times of relative calm, spend some time finding out what do they need from you when they are in distress. What's helpful and what's not? Sometimes we're doing and saying things that we think are helpful, but it's actually triggering the other person. Practice the language you would use when this person is in distress, and see if that might resonate with them. 

Have a conversation about when and who you contact if things are escalating. It's vital for anyone who is dealing with a mental health crisis to have an opportunity to talk about what they need, what they don't need, so you know what to do moving forward as an ally. 

Create Community 

Living with a mental illness can be difficult, but getting treatment and finding support from others doesn’t have to be. People with mental health concerns heal best by being surrounded by their families and community. Build a group of connected allies who have been there, done the work and understand so you can help support those suffering better. 

When it comes to mental health, every action counts! Join the conversation on Bell Let’s Talk Day, January 26, and help create positive change for those living with mental health issues. For every text message, mobile or long-distance call made by Bell, Bell Aliant and Bell MTS customers, Bell will donate five cents to Canadian mental health initiatives. The same goes for every tweet or TikTok video with the hashtag #BellLetsTalk, watching the Bell Let’s Talk Day video on TwitterInstagramFacebookYouTubePinterest TikTok or Snapchat, or using the Bell Let’s Talk Facebook frame or Snapchat filter. But that’s just the first step: Visit for more ways you can effect change and build awareness around mental health.

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