My partner told me about an allyship training they’d had at work, as their workplace sort to improve their equality mandate. Thus, I asked my partner to share some of the information with me so I could look further into it. The result of that was this article on becoming an ally, which borrows and adapts information from Frame Shift Consulting. So credit where credits due. It also seemed like a good follow-up to my last article for the Ask Twice campaign.
What Is An Ally?
First, let’s quickly define what we mean by an ally in this context. In a nutshell, being an ally is to use what privileged status you have to support those who need it. A good example of this comes from an article in The Independent, whereby a Muslim woman with her siblings was subjected to verbally Islamophobic abuse on the Metro in Newcastle, but fellow white and non-Muslim travellers came to their aid. Although it should be noted that this isn’t a typical way to be an ally for someone, it’s just a good story of where a community pushed back against hate.
Privileges And Being An Ally
Ok, before we start, let’s first get something out of the way. Being privileged isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s how you use that privilege that is often the problem. You can either use it to help better your fellow people or not.
Being aware of your power and privilege will allow you to recognise the best way(s) you can become a true ally. That’s because it can often be hard to recognise or accept that you have a privileged status, especially if you don’t feel like life has treated you that way, as evidenced by the Brexit vote.
Sources of privilege
The more sources of privilege you belong to, the fewer struggles you’re likely to have experienced in life. But that’s not to say that you will be completely without struggles, just that such things as just being born black aren’t one of them. And trust me, being born black in an overwhelmingly white area can cause that person a lot of damage. It did me.
Examples of potential privileges:
- Part of the dominant ethnic group.
- Cisgender (you identify your gender as the sex you were born with).
- Not disabled.
- Born a citizen or a legal resident/citizen.
- Speak the dominant language.
- Speak with a high-status accent.
- Not “too young” nor “too old”.
- Fall within the beauty stands for height/size/shape.
- Not a mother.
- Not a caregiver.
- From an upper, middle-class family or high caste.
I benefited very little from this set of privileges. I may have been male, which had some benefits, but I was also black, which negated a lot of, but not all, the privileges of being male. Being cis and straight also avoided additional social problems from being heaped on me, at a time when I was suicidal at primary school simply for being in the wrong part of the country and black.
Other sources of privilege
These are separated from the above list as these privileges you can earn yourself rather than being thrusted on you by circumstances.
Examples of earned privileges:
- Technically experienced.
- Wealthy (compared to peers).
- Leadership position or position in the hierarchy, as long as you’re not at the bottom.
- Head of family/household.
- Recognised as an expert.
- Large audience or range of influence.
- Access to influential figures.
An example of how falling into one of the second set of privileges can be used to be an ally is if you’re in a leadership role or high enough in the hierarchy, then it’s easier for you to fight for changes or to simply implement the required changes yourself.
I am lucky to fall into the educated privilege, after completing an undergraduate and postgraduate degree. But again, being a black male can often still override this fact, simply because of how I look and people’s biases.
Being a marginalised person requires only to exist, but to be an ally takes action to oppose oppression, discrimination, and prejudice. Furthermore, much like me, in some situations, you may be the person in a position of privilege, while in others you might be the person being marginalised.
So ask yourself, what could you do with your privileged position to support those that needed it?
Allyship Vs White Saviour
The fundamental difference between allyship and being a white saviour is motive. If you’re looking to help people who you look down upon, think are childlike, or somehow incapable of knowing what to do for themselves, then you might be suffering from a White saviour complex.
Due to the systematic oppression of minority ethnic groups, the power and resources are hoarded by the majority ethnic group, which in the case of the US, UK, and the EU, is white people. A White saviour doesn’t seek to address that disparity. They instead want to retain that advantage while using it to manipulate the minority groups to stroke their ego.
Unfortunately, a lot of charity work is based on using the white saviour paradigm rather than supporting communities to help them to be able to flourish on their own. The whole, ‘give a man a fish…’ argument.
There are other ways to be a bad ally, which aren’t exclusively a white people issue. Some people can pretend to be allies to benefit themselves, rather than the group they’re pretending to be an ally for.
They can do this by:
- Taking positions better occupied by those being marginalised.
- Not listening to marginalised people and taking over.
- Making it about them and how they feel. However, it should be noted that people may share something they think is helping, so there is a level of how much and how often they do this that should be considered.
- Using silencing tactics.
- Taking credit, money, publicity, etc. that should go to marginalised people. One way this often happens is by not crediting someone and claiming someone else’s work or effort as their own.
- Being patronizing or paternalistic.
- Using allyship as a cover for abuse or exploitation.
Neha Batra coined the term microallyship, which is about the small daily things you can do to grow as a person and to become a better ally. The ways you can practise tiny daily allyship are to do:
How To Be An Affective Mental Health Ally
Applying microallyship, you could ‘amplify’ mental health content by sharing informative content about it and/or sharing your own stories of struggles with mental health. For ‘attribute’, you could recognise the contributors to mental health, and not just recognise their work.
In regards to ‘volunteer’, that could be anything from offering support to actively volunteering for a mental health organisation or event. You could also sign up to take part in mental health studies. I’m currently taking part in a longitudinal study on the effects coronavirus has on mental health, filling in 15 minutes questionnaires every 2-4 weeks since March.
When it comes to ‘educate’, you can achieve this by reading articles, studies, blog posts, visiting mental health sites, subscribing to blogs, and watching documentaries.
Lastly, ‘ask’ which seems pretty self-explanatory, and that’s to ask questions and actively listen to the replies. If you don’t understand what someone with mental health issues is going through, asking them (give them the option to not talk about it when you do) will allow you to understand their situation. Furthermore, people also will require different types of help and support, and the only way you’ll know how to help them get that is to ask them.
When you hear people make disparaging comments about mental health or people with mental health issues, challenge the comments, but do so safely, and try to do it in a way that doesn’t make them feel defensive if possible. For tips on how that could be done, check out: The Hard Truth About Eating The Criticism Sandwich.
Pick your battles, so to speak, and spend your time and effort talking to those that are open to change. My mum isn’t willing to change. If anything, she’s only gotten more bigoted over the years, and it seems YouTube is largely to blame for that.
Donating to worthy causes is a simple way to help, which can be done by setting up a monthly donation to organisations like Mind.
People who are oppressed and marginalised often have businesses that could benefit from your support. Why not buy from them rather than from businesses like Amazon which don’t pay taxes, treat their staff as expendable, and are owned by the richest person in the world? He doesn’t need your money.
Another simple method that can be used is to check petitions (38 Degrees, Sum of Us, Change, etc.) and government sites (UK Parliament) for causes to support. Or better yet, you could start your own petition using sites like this.
Acknowledge your privilege
Pretty self-explanatory, when you’re in a place of privilege, acknowledge it. My partner does that a lot about their circumstances, however, they often take it too far and turn it into a way to put themselves down. Putting yourself down due to being privileged isn’t the point. It’s to be aware and acknowledging your privilege(s).
Sometimes we just don’t know what we should do, so we end up doing nothing at all, but that’s not being an ally. If you’re not sure what to do, ask.
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing
Being a friend
There are a lot of statements people often make without thinking that can cause a lot of harm, which I covered in a previous article. The gist of that article is that it’s better to listen than to make assumptions, especially if you’ve never experienced mental health problems yourself.
Thus, the first step to being an ally is when talking to someone who could use an ally, to avoid statements like:
It’s all in your head – Yeah, no sh*t sherlock, but that doesn’t make it any less of a problem.
Other people have it worse – Because other people have it worse, I’m not allowed to get help or basic understanding? Does that mean only one person, the person who has it worst of everyone, is allowed to struggle and get support?
Just get over it (one of my mum’s) – Ok great, and how am I going to be doing that?
Instead, say stuff like:
- What can I do to help?
- I’m here if you want to talk?
- I can see how that might be difficult. How are you coping?
- I’m sorry you’re going through this.
I just wish one time my mum would avoid using such statements when she talks to me because she’s never been an ally, which if you’ve read ‘Avoidance: Toxic Family And Protecting Your Wellbeing‘ or ‘Black Lives Matter: A Letter To My Mum‘ you’d be very aware of. Don’t be like my mum.
Create a safe space
Safe space often gets a bad rap, but creating a space where people feel free to talk openly is a great way to get difficult conversations started, so important changes can be tackled.
Take time to understand what discrimination is and how it can be an issue. To help you with that, check out my article on discrimination. This will help you in establishing a safe space, avoid doing nothing and be a friend as a true ally.
To be an ally is a commitment to try to be better. You may make mistakes, and that’s ok, mistakes can be learned from. Don’t be scared off because something seems too complex. It’s the effort to help and the commitment to do better that really matters.
I have some vocabulary I picked up in the 90s that I’m trying my hardest not to use anymore, but still occasionally pops out, but when it does, I verbally correct myself and tell myself off. My commitment to change includes long-ingrained vernacular from my youth that I no longer want to use because I don’t find it acceptable to use it. But like I said, it’s the willingness and effort to try to do better that helps, because people aren’t perfect and change doesn’t always happen overnight.
As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, feel free to share your experiences with needing an ally or being an ally in the comments section below as well. If you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up for my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications for new articles by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom right corner.
Lastly, if you’d like to support my blog, then you can make a donation of any size below as well. Until next time,
Unwanted Life readers.
54 thoughts on “How To Be An Effective Mental Health Ally”
Very well written article and a lot of food for thought. I am becoming increasingly (and painfully) aware of my privilege on multiple levels every week. But I promise, I try to do good and a be better ally. At the moment I donate money to the Dutch Foodbank (increased the amount to 3€/week last month) and blood. It’s not a very personal way to approach this but at least it goes to good use. Please keep on talking about this. It’s so educative and important.
Any help, not matter how big or small, is still good. Donating blood is also really important, more people should do it. I can’t give blood due to my health issues, but I’ve always been on the organ donor list should I die and have viable organs that could help someone
Well, I have learned a lot while reading this post. My mind was taking me to the great movies made on discrimination in the civilized world; yet at the same time I wonder how African people are being treated in Africa.( this has nothing to do with racism in USA, EU, and rest of the civilized world). I came from a place where if you don’t take advantage of somebody; the others will do it without any hesitation. The pressure of huge population, under nourish people, Patriarchal culture, ignorance of the poor and oblivion attitude of the rich, educated and the beautiful people, is really hard and are day to day facts. Even in Argentina and Brazil. the ruling and rich people are white. My question is that before the colonization of the whites, people were selling even white European girls to Ottoman sultan, and Arabs were selling African people in Carrabin’s .So should we start our history from white colonization, and forget other part of the history, because majority is authority, might is right. I am not saying that punish people who are coming from those countries, or discriminate against them; but ask them one thing that accept the history as it is and was..
History shouldn’t be ignored, especially if it’s still affecting the present. Accurate history is important and acknowledgement of it is also important if you want to make appropriate changes in the future. Discrimination is a huge issue and tackling the roots of it is an important first step, which in a lot of cases will go back to the colonial pasts of empire building. Knowing that might also help with supporting someone as a mental health ally
This is very well written. Thank you for breaking down the meaning of ‘privilege’ in a way that makes it easy to understand. I have noticed that those with the most privilege in life are often the quickest to jump to a defensive response when called out on it. While being a bisexual woman means that I’m not the most privileged person out there, I have learned (with some help) that I do have some SERIOUS privilege just in being white and Canadian born. The first step to using that in a positive way is acknowledging that it exists.
American is the best example of how those with the most privileges will cry foul of those seeking equality
This was an extremely helpful post and I wish that more privileged people read this. I am belong to the privileged side in my country and I try to be a proper ally and make myself more about the issues that the marginalized communities are facing. I still have a long way to go but taking small steps is still better than not taking a step at all.
Indeed, taking any progressive steps forward is better than taking none at all
This is a good informative post. It’s good to be a mental health ally and help those who are in need. Thank you for sharing.
Thanks for reading
I think that’s the worst thing to say that others have it worse 🙂
Indeed, it’s quite a common statement too, unfortunately
This is so well written and so useful! It can often be difficult to know what is best or most helpful so your information here is great. Thank you for sharing!
It can be difficult to know what to do, but even looking for find out what you could do is a step in the right direction
This is so lovely, and it’s nice to understand what it makes to be a helpful and compassionate ally for someone who is struggling. Thanks for sharing x
Thanks for taking the time to read it
This post is really enlightening. I want to be there for my friends and family, especially right now when things are so tough for all of us. Lots of food for thought in this post, thank you for sharing!
Thank you for reading
This is a really great post. It’s important that everyone realize their privilege. It seems like the older generation get offended easily by the term.
Often those with the most privileges don’t want to acknowledge it, even though they were the last generation to do better than their peers
A very insightful article! I think it’s so important to be aware of your privilege and see how you’re able to help out xx
Awareness of privilege is the first step, especially when that privilege changes depending on context
Really learned a lot in your article thank you so much for sharing and bringing more awareness to these issues!
I’m glad your found it informative
This is a very insightful blog post that I wish more people would read. A college degree and being well-off has never been enough to afford me the title of being privileged because I am a Blasian woman…a triple minority.
It is so unfortunate that allyship was only a thing when it came in fashion after the death of Floyd. All the white saviors were on board at the time. Many of those same self proclaimed “allies” voted for Trump. Saying you are an ally then voting Trump means you’re a systemic racist. If one believes Trump isn’t racist then that one is a systemic racist at the very least. Yes, minorities including Black folk are racist against their own. Black Trumpers yearn for that privileged life. They believe by turning their backs on their own they will have privilege. Ask Herman Cain if wearing that MAGA hat gave him the prestige he was looking for. Oh you can’t. He died supporting Trump and the conservatives didn’t even give him honor in a 24 hour news cycle.
I applaud the true allies. I applaud the people who really learned something and became an ally and believe that Black Lives Matter too. It’s so unfortunate that my applause is for such a small few. The rest, 73 million Americans cannot tell me they are not racist or systemic racists.
Not all republicans are racist, but all racists are republican. All Trump supporters are racist…blatant or systemic. Still racist.
The only people who don’t see Trump as racist are other racists who don’t see themselves as racist. My mum is one of those people, and I wrote a letter to her to try and change her way, which I also added as an article on my site. It didn’t change a thing. She would later go on to quote far right nationalist conspiracy theories about white replacement and white genocide. Haven’t talk to her since
That’s unfortunate about your mother. I too have family members that are systemic racists (even against their own) who voted Trump. I don’t know if writing off family or even friends is a good thing, but I get it.
Systemic racism is so deeply rooted due to imperialism/colonialism that it’s very difficult for ones with the privilege to see the forest for the trees. Ignorance is bliss for them, you know? It’s hard to do, but we still have to love. The blatant racists, however can’t get a pass.
My mum’s white and I’m of mixed ethnicity, that’s how my mum can square away being racist while claiming she’s not. My mum’s been a bigot my whole life, I’m done wasting my energy on her because she’s bad for my mental health
I think this cuts straight to the heart of it: “to be an ally takes action” and you have given great examples of even the tiniest micro ways to start speaking up and showing up as an ally. Very thoughtful and well written piece!
This is a very interesting post, thanks for sharing this information!
Thank for this. I think a lot of people are afraid to overstep and the result is doing nothing or too little, but it’s good to read some guidelines.
Indeed, people often worry too much about if they’re overstepping
Thanks for the enlightening article. I believe that each one of us have missions in this lifetime and being a true ally is one. You have shared with us the circumstances in your life, but now you are doing so much work, through your articles. Keep going, as we are learning from this and we want to be allies too. Through knowledge we will be brave enough to do whatever we can.
Knowledge is power after all
Thank you for sharing! A lot of wonderful and extremely important tactics in here. Beautifully stated.
Thank you ?
This is a very well written post, and something which I’m really pleased you brought to my attention. We need to be more aware of these things, knowledge is definitely an important thing and if we don’t talk about all of this then we can never improve/change things. It’s a shame that this has been going on for so long, and took one horrible event for people to be more aware of though…. I was really pleased to see the section about “to be an ally takes action”, you even gave some brilliant examples of things that we could do, no matter how small, it could make a big difference. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you. Hopefully the examples will help people take action or inspire them to find their own ways of being a an ally
This is so detailed
Thank you for this
Thanks for reading
I always love your articles – you cover your topics full circle and they are highly informative. I always learn something about it. Privilege is something we have been focusing on at work at well and it has been incredibly enlightening.
Thank you ? having privilege and not knowing you have it or not using to support others is probably one of the bigger issue at the noment
Really enjoyed reading this. It has definitely given me a new perspective on privilege and a better understanding on how I can use mine for good. Thank you.
I think the important takeaway is that we can all have different degrees of privilege depending on the situation
Thanks for writing such an insightful post. I am unintentionally guilty of not being an ally but going forward I’m going to be more aware of what needs to be done and how
I’m glad my article inspired you to try and do more. Trying is half the battle after all
Absolutely an amazing post and so detailed and informative.
Thank you ☺️
You have spent such a large amount of time writing an article that’s so complex and interesting. I applaud you.
Thank you ?
Really interesting post, I learn a lot. it is very complex and informative ?
Thanks for sharing
Thanks for reading