Being an ally means you take the “human first” approach.
BY JOANNA C. VALENTE
This is in response to xoJane's piece, "My Former Friend's Death Was A Blessing." You can also read about Editorial Accountability as it relates to this piece here.
What does being a mental health ally and advocate mean? It means having empathy for others, raising awareness around mental illnesses, and breaking down negative stereotyping. When we write about mental health, especially when we write personal narratives about people we know, it is imperative to be empathetic, and to look at all the angles—to approach from a "human first" point of view.
Let me break it down for you:
1. Every life is a life worth living. Yes, people suffer—some more than others. Sometimes, it can be hard for someone to even get out of bed, to feel like they are worth something. Sometimes, that means they have a messy apartment, don’t always act the way "you do." But that doesn’t mean they also don’t have value and meaning.
2. Living with a mental illness, such as depression, an eating disorder, etc., sometimes means you’ll feel unhappy. And sometimes that affects the people around you. So what? That’s OK. It’s OK to feel sad, to feel angry, to feel lonely, to feel rejected. You don’t owe anyone anything. You don’t owe anyone happiness. You are not a burden. And even if you feel like you are, you aren’t. Life is about dealing with, and adjusting, what life is throwing their way.
3. Being there for someone with a mental illness is hard. There isn’t one rule book. But being there means listening. Just listen.
4. Being an ally means you take the "human first" approach. You don’t say "My depressed/fucked up friend." You say, “My friend Z suffers from depression/My friend Z has depression," like you would say something has arthritis, has a heart condition, has cancer. Someone can have something going on, but that isn’t them—just as someone’s sexual preference isn’t the only sole factor defining them. Just because someone suffers doesn't mean they are living a life not worth living.
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Marys of the Sea (forthcoming 2016, ELJ Publications) & Xenos (forthcoming 2017, Agape Editions). She received her MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. She is also the founder of Yes, Poetry, as well as the managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine. Some of her writing has appeared in Prelude, The Atlas Review, The Huffington Post, Columbia Journal, and elsewhere. She has lead workshops at Brooklyn Poets.