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Here's to You/Hope House: Ways to help someone with mental illness feel part of community

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news Bemidji, 56619

Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

Many of the people we work with at Hope House report they do not feel part of their communities.

They report that stigma continues to limit their friendships and acceptance by family. Most community people don't want to hurt people with mental illness, but some actions do result in hurt. Here are some ways you can help someone with mental illness to feel more accepted.

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E Smile and/or say hello whether you know the person's name or not. You don't have to have a lot to say. One person with mental illness says, "When I was in my early days with schizophrenia, a deacon from my church used to say, 'Hi! Nice to see you!' every time I went to church. Sometimes I just didn't feel well enough to say anything back, but I kept coming back because of his kindness to me. That deacon has passed on, and I'm the one who helps others now. But I will never forget that simple hello when I was at my lowest."

E Be kind. Hold the door for someone. Let someone who looks tense or worried go ahead of you in line. One person with mental illness describes kindness as, "My mother is supportive of me. My father says my mental illness is an act, and I should just get over it, but my mother listens to me. She doesn't try to solve my problems for me, but she helps me when I've tried some things and they aren't working."

E Speak in an adult tone of voice. Pay attention to the way you say or do things. Are you staring? Are the terms you use respectful of someone with mental illness? Sometimes community people think that others won't understand or won't take offense. However, even when a person is suffering from psychosis, he or she is aware of whether others respect him or her. Here is what one person says about respect, "I've had people talk to me in baby talk. They've shouted at me, or even called me nuts or crazy. My boss, on the other hand, understands me. If I'm stressed, he says calmly, 'Why don't you take a break for a few minutes? Then let's find a way to make this job less stressful.'"

E Step out of your comfort zone and get to know someone with mental illness. Volunteer in a program. Sit in the library and visit with someone you don't know. You don't have to be best friends. Just take a little time with people. Many people in the community fear that all people with mental illness are prone to dangerousness. Here is what one person says about that, "I've had my days of stress. I've even wanted to hurt myself. But I would never hurt someone else. There are people dying every day from gangs, domestic abuse, drunken brawls, but those don't get the media attention like mental illness does. I don't know anyone with mental illness who would hurt others, but we all get the label of dangerous if even one person does something. How can we change that?"

E To learn more about mental illness. Here are a few websites: nami.org; NIMH.nih.gov; healthyplace.com; nmha.org/go/information/get-info/mi-and-the-family/recognizing-warning-signs-and-how-to-cope.

As one person with mental illness says, "I wish people knew more about mental illness. They would be more understanding. They would be less frustrated. And I could be a better part of my community because I would feel they wanted me around."

That's what we want, too.

Robin Wold is executive director of Hope House.

Many of the people we work with at Hope House report they do not feel part of their communities.

They report that stigma continues to limit their friendships and acceptance by family. Most community people don't want to hurt people with mental illness, but some actions do result in hurt. Here are some ways you can help someone with mental illness to feel more accepted.

- Smile and/or say hello whether you know the person's name or not. You don't have to have a lot to say. One person with mental illness says, "When I was in my early days with schizophrenia, a deacon from my church used to say, 'Hi! Nice to see you!' every time I went to church. Sometimes I just didn't feel well enough to say anything back, but I kept coming back because of his kindness to me. That deacon has passed on, and I'm the one who helps others now. But I will never forget that simple hello when I was at my lowest."

- Be kind. Hold the door for someone. Let someone who looks tense or worried go ahead of you in line. One person with mental illness describes kindness as, "My mother is supportive of me. My father says my mental illness is an act, and I should just get over it, but my mother listens to me. She doesn't try to solve my problems for me, but she helps me when I've tried some things and they aren't working."

- Speak in an adult tone of voice. Pay attention to the way you say or do things. Are you staring? Are the terms you use respectful of someone with mental illness? Sometimes community people think that others won't understand or won't take offense. However, even when a person is suffering from psychosis, he or she is aware of whether others respect him or her. Here is what one person says about respect, "I've had people talk to me in baby talk. They've shouted at me, or even called me nuts or crazy. My boss, on the other hand, understands me. If I'm stressed, he says calmly, 'Why don't you take a break for a few minutes? Then let's find a way to make this job less stressful.'"

- Step out of your comfort zone and get to know someone with mental illness. Volunteer in a program. Sit in the library and visit with someone you don't know. You don't have to be best friends. Just take a little time with people. Many people in the community fear that all people with mental illness are prone to dangerousness. Here is what one person says about that, "I've had my days of stress. I've even wanted to hurt myself. But I would never hurt someone else. There are people dying every day from gangs, domestic abuse, drunken brawls, but those don't get the media attention like mental illness does. I don't know anyone with mental illness who would hurt others, but we all get the label of dangerous if even one person does something. How can we change that?"

- To learn more about mental illness. Here are a few websites: nami.org; NIMH.nih.gov; healthyplace.com; nmha.org/go/information/get-info/mi-and-the-family/recognizing-warning-signs-and-how-to-cope.

As one person with mental illness says, "I wish people knew more about mental illness. They would be more understanding. They would be less frustrated. And I could be a better part of my community because I would feel they wanted me around."

That's what we want, too.

Robin Wold is executive director of Hope House.

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