Sometimes it’s hard to speak openly about your experiences with mental illness and reach out for help. It may feel like you’re supposed to “stay strong” or “fight through” even if you’re already maxed out. It can feel lonely when the people around you aren’t sure what it is you’re going through. And even if you’re in therapy, sometimes that isn’t quite enough — you want to really know you’re not alone and connect with others who have similar experiences.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately one in five Americans struggle with their mental health in a given year. While therapy or medication can be a critical part of seeking help, it’s not always affordable or easy to get to. And sometimes you might want support between your therapy sessions or want to meet others who really get it you can hang out with regularly. Finding peer support, according to Mental Health America, can be important to your recovery.
However, most mental health programs, from therapy to peer-to-peer groups, often follow the same format. You’re in an office or a community building and usually talking. This is important for many people in treatment, but sometimes you might want to try something a little outside the box to get a change of pace and boost your recovery journey. That’s why some innovative organizations are doing things differently and taking you outside, giving you a haircut or bringing some of your favorite stories into the process.
If you’re looking for some ideas on unexpected places you may be able to find peer mental health support and community, here are six organizations on a mission:
Letters to Strangers is a nonprofit seeking to destigmatize mental illness and build community in the real world for young people aged 13 to 24. The organization advocates for changes in the mental health dialogue and has reached over 30,000 people worldwide. Along with a youth-run team, volunteers write and submit hand-written letters. They then distribute these anonymous, heartfelt letters to chapters (usually student clubs on campuses) or partner organizations in the community to offer support for those who are going through difficult times. They believe, “Writing is humanity distilled into ink.”
How to learn more: You can write and submit your letters worldwide here.
The Lion’s Barber Collective discovered barbers are in a unique position to help raise awareness about mental illness after they found more than half of men feel more comfortable discussing their mental health with their barber than they do with a doctor. They decided to do something about it. The Lion’s Barber Collective trains barbers across the world to recognize the signs of someone struggling with their mental health and provide support and resources. The collective was started in the U.K., and currently has 110 affiliated barbers across 15 countries.
How to learn more: You can find if there’s a Lion’s barber in your area on the charity’s website.
3. Sip of Hope
Sip of Hope is a coffee shop in Chicago, and the world’s first coffee shop where 100% of the proceeds support suicide prevention and mental health education. That’s not all this coffee shop does. The staff are all certified in mental health first aid, so they’re well-equipped to support customers who stay awhile and chat. With its motto of, “It’s OK not to be OK,” Sip of Hope is a good setting to find support and build community. You can also attend an educational workshop or pick up literature on mental health services with a cup of coffee.
How to learn more: You can visit Sip of Hope’s website for more information.
The Cycle Effect (TCE) is a nonprofit in Eagle, Colorado, empowering young women through mountain biking to help build stronger communities. TCE focuses on three primary goal areas: physical wellness, community impact and mentorship as well as building brighter futures. TCE’s mountain bike program provides mental health support, community and mentorship to young women through its competitive mountain bike races for girls who would not have the resources to participate in the sport otherwise.
How to learn more: If you or someone you know is interested in joining the team, you can find more information here.
Hike for Mental Health is a nature-based nonprofit that helps people with and without mental health issues connect with nature through wilderness hikes. Hike for Mental Health believes spending time in nature has therapeutic value and can help build community with peers in a safe environment. In addition, the Texas-based nonprofit donates 80% of its earnings from sponsored hikes to mental health research.
How to learn more: To join a Hike for Mental Health, you can view the organization’s schedule here.
For a twist on more traditional therapy, Tales for Life is a Berlin-based counseling center offering a service called “fariytale therapy.” You read fairytales in a group or individual setting to use the characters and symbols of classic stories like “Beauty and the Beast” to apply the takeaway lessons to your life. While this organization is based in Germany, other therapists around the world are also harnessing the world of stories. For example, psychologist Janina Scarlet’s U.S.-based Superhero Therapy uses similar techniques in combination with more traditional mental health therapy.
How to learn more: You can learn more about fairytale counseling here, and find similar services worldwide by searching online.
The Mighty is a great place to ask questions and learn about mental health from a group of people who “get it.” With thousands of users on the site posting about their mental health journey, you’re sure to find someone you can relate to on The Mighty. To connect with a community that cares, head to our #CheckInWithMe or #MentalHealth pages. There you can read stories and post a Mighty Thought or Question to give and get support.
If you feel like you need a change of pace or a little extra support in your mental health journey, organizations like the ones highlighted above might be the out-of-the-box boost you need. Also remember, these alternatives might not work for everybody or may not be enough to support your mental health on their own. If you also need and want therapy or medication, know there’s nothing wrong with that and you’re not alone.
For local treatment resources and options in your area, call NAMI’s helpline for free support and information. If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.