Mental health is just as important as our physical health, which is why we are part of a local effort to stop the silence and the stigma.

The effort is part of a campaign called “Make It OK,” and is designed to encourage people to talk more openly about mental illnesses and ask for help.

It’s OK to have a mental illness — many of us do. Americans from every walk of life experience a mental illness. Most people live with the symptoms of a mental illness for years before seeking treatment, largely due to the stigma. The sooner people get treatment, the greater their chances of recovery.

It’s OK because it is a medical condition — not a character flaw. Mental illnesses are biological conditions that can be treated, just like cancer and diabetes. They cannot be overcome through “will power” and are not related to a person’s character or intelligence. It’s OK because it’s treatable — life can get better.

Nationwide, nearly 1 in 5 Americans live with a mental illness. The 2017 Crow Wing County Health Survey found that more than 1 in 4 (28.2%) adults in Crow Wing County have a mental illness. Despite being one of the most common illnesses, there is still a stigma attached to mental illnesses and many people struggle with talking about them.

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The best treatments for serious mental illnesses today are highly effective. In fact, between 70-90% of peoples’ symptoms are reduced and feel better when following individualized treatment plans. Together, we can Make It OK. Together, we can all work to reduce the stigma.

Tips for talking

Stop the silence If someone discloses that they have a mental illness, they are opening up to you in a big way. Ask questions, show concern, but keep the awkward silence at bay.

Be nice — It sounds simple enough, but try to say the right things with openness, warmth and caring.

Listen — The fact that you are there can make a world of difference, so in your conversation, try to err more on the side of listening.

Keep in contact — Offer availability by phone, text, email, or time to meet up. Just be there.

Don’t ignore it — Don’t be afraid to ask about the well-being of another if you think they might be hurting. Trust your senses.

Offer help — Everyone is different. They may want very specific help or no help at all. Either way, you can always ask and be open to the answer.

Keep the conversation moving — It’s OK to talk about other things to keep silent lulls out of conversation; as long as they know you’re completely open to revisiting the topic later. Tell your friends about MakeItOk.org.

Many people often get tongue-tied or are just not sure how to respond when someone shares with them about their mental illness. Consider this if you don't know what to say — think about what you would say to someone who just told you they had cancer or diabetes, and say that.

  • "Can I drive you to an appointment or make a meal?"

  • "I'm sorry to hear that. It must be tough."

  • "I'm here for you when you need me."

  • "How are you feeling today?"

Visit MakeItOk.org to learn more about the campaign and "What to Say."

Become a Make It OK trainer

Crow Wing Energized, in partnership with Crow Wing County and Essentia Health, is hosting a Make It OK ambassador training opportunity.

This training opportunity will prepare participants to deliver Make It OK training to the local community.

When: 4-5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15.

Location: Online via Zoom

Register Online: https://bit.ly/2VvkqYD

Details: The class is free, but registration is required.