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May is Mental Health Awareness Month—an ideal time to recognize the pervasive issue of mental illness and the enduring stigma that affects those who suffer from these conditions. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five American adults lived with a mental health condition before the pandemic. Experts believe that the need for support has grown even more acute now. 

Mental illness encompasses a broad spectrum of conditions, including depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, substance abuse disorders, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), among others. These conditions can influence individuals' thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and may pose significant challenges in their daily lives.

Fortunately, there are numerous ways to volunteer to assist people with mental health issues, making a difference in their lives by providing companionship, support, and resources that they might not otherwise have access to. Here are some ways to do so.

Support People in Your Community

For many, giving back to their communities is a priority when volunteering. Numerous communities and organizations host support groups for individuals living with mental illness and their families. With training, some volunteers can facilitate these groups, creating a safe space for sharing experiences, coping strategies, and providing mutual support. National organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) and Mental Health America (MHA), which are leading nonprofits dedicated to assisting those with mental illness and promoting overall mental health, often rely on state and local chapters or affiliates. These chapters depend on volunteers to lead support groups and educational programs.

Additionally, peer support programs pair individuals who live with mental illness with those currently facing similar challenges, offering mentorship, empathy, and encouragement. Volunteering as a peer counselor allows individuals to share their own recovery journey while providing hope and understanding to others. Organizations such as Mental Health America (MHA) and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) offer training and volunteer opportunities for peer support.

Local mental health and social service nonprofits require volunteers for a variety of roles. To discover what opportunities are available, reach out to organizations in your area. If you're having difficulty finding them, check the event listings in your local newspaper or contact your local library or United Way chapter.

Raise Awareness

Throughout the year, NAMI hosts a series of awareness events. From Minority Mental Health Awareness Month in July to Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in September, these events offer opportunities to participate in raising awareness about specific mental health issues and topics. To learn about events in your area, contact local social service nonprofits, such as those focusing on substance abuse prevention, behavioral health, and other related organizations. If you have trouble finding an event, consider reaching out to national organizations to discuss planning one. You could organize a talk at a local school or community center, or distribute informational materials.

Help People in Crisis

Crisis hotlines can be critical for individuals suffering from mental health issues or substance abuse. These hotlines, often staffed by trained volunteers, provide support via phone or text. The Crisis Text Line assists people dealing with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, thoughts of suicide, and other serious challenges. Similarly, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Line connects to over 180 crisis centers nationwide that need volunteer support. Volunteers are typically required to complete training. Additionally, the organization provides guidance on how to support at-risk individuals on social media.

Advocate for Change

If you know someone affected by mental illness or disease, you understand how quickly life can change for them and their families. Even simple tasks can become overwhelming challenges. Each year, organizations strive to raise awareness and secure funding to discover treatments and cures. Engage with resources such as NAMI, the Alzheimer’s Association, and other leading organizations that advocate for mental health resources and funding. Become familiar with their legislative priorities, and contact your government representatives and community leaders. Learn more about becoming an advocate here.

End the Stigma

One of the biggest barriers to addressing mental health issues is the stigma associated with them. Taking NAMI’s stigma-free pledge is a great first step. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, dedicated to assisting the more than 60 million people in the U.S. struggling with mental illness, seeks personal stories to help raise awareness. The organization also maintains a website designed to educate the public about mental health. Additionally, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides a toolkit and various resources specifically for older adults.

For more information on how you can give back and make a difference in the lives of others, visit

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