Here’s how communities can play a big role in helping people struggling with mental illness

Among all the conditions one can have, those in the mental illness category may be particularly straining, because symptoms can be invisible and difficult to diagnose. Then there’s the question of how to care for someone suffering from mental illness; what to say, what to do, how to help. While help from friends, family, and therapists can be invaluable, studies actually suggest the larger community can also be vital in maintaining stability for those with mental illness.

People with mental illnesses are often stigmatized, which can discourage them from seeking the appropriate medical treatment or counseling. According to NPR, it’s important for community members to have contact with mental illness patients, because this can reduce stigma, crush age-old stereotypes and and encourage a more positive attitude. This in turn provides a safer, more welcoming environment for people struggling with their illness. Of course, none of these changes are quick, but given time, favorable results could occur that might benefit everyone.

Those with mental illness need to feel empowered and confident in the knowledge that they are valued members of society, instead of continuously scrutinized for being different.

There are places in the world where rigorous community contact with mental illness patients has been a regular feature for decades, such as in Geel, Belgium, where the state has been known to pay for for families to care for people with mental illness in their own homes. This is a very humane approach, and makes sense because it’s about bringing people together to support one another in facing obstacles.

But the US offers only a few similar programs for a large pool of people who need them. One such program is Thresholds in Chicago, which offers social activities, employment, and residential assistance to community members. NPR emphasizes these types of fostering communities should be encouraged to spread, in order to provide a safe environment for patients to pursue a healthy life without the stigma of isolation.

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