Talking about your mental health can be a daunting task. For some, they may fret that opening up about complex emotional issues will make them a burden on those they care most about. For others, they may feel a sense of shame when talking about their mental health issues. And for others still, they may believe they do not need help regarding an emotional issue and need to tough through it. In any of these cases, or in cases that weren’t used as examples, there are a few tips and tricks to keep in mind when thinking about or committing to talking about mental health.
As nerve wracking as it is to open up about these topics, your family or loved ones have likely noticed the struggle you’re facing. In many cases, we express our frustrations or fears in various ways that those close to us can pick up on. It could be as small as a change in expression or lack of energy, to a change in behavior that your loved ones noticed and have paid silent attention to. In talking about your struggles with them, you may be providing a reason for changes they’ve already noticed and in doing so, everyone involved can now talk openly about their concerns or what’s been going on and what steps to take from that point.
If you’re not sure how to phrase what you’re experiencing, use ‘I’ statements. If, for example, you want to express how tough work has been lately, rather than just saying ‘work is hard’, you might say ‘I’ve been really struggling at work lately’. In doing so, you aren’t just stating something you perceive, but how it’s affecting you and how you feel about it. Or, if a stressor for you is talking about something in a certain way, rather than just saying ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ you might say ‘I’m really uncomfortable when we talk about this topic in this way’. ‘I’ statements allow for better and more clear communication of what’s going on with you to your loved ones and can be a good tool to express how you feel not just with difficult situations, but in day-to-day life.
Depending on the culture your family follows or the current culture surrounding you as a whole, talking about mental health may feel like a very shameful or stigmatizing act. This stigma may be one of the largest barriers of entry to mental health, but it’s important to remember that you or someone you love is not weaker for asking for help. It might be helpful to imagine if you weren’t the one asking for help, but one of your loved ones. How you react to them may help you imagine how they would actually react to your own asking for help, and imagining how they react can help you prepare to respond to said reactions. It may also be a reality for some people that their family wouldn’t react well to talks of mental health. In such a case, reaching out to friends or others you trust to react well would be a good alternative path. In recent years, American society as a whole has started to be much more open about talking about mental health, so this stigma is reducing.
Finally, if you’re unsure of how to even begin the conversation, it might be helpful to write down what you’d like to say and practice saying it to yourself. Talking about such a deeply personal subject, especially if you haven’t done it before, can feel terrifying and seem like too much to try and talk about. By writing down what you’d like to say, even just into bullet points, you are making an otherwise abstract problem concrete and something you can work with and edit. In doing so, you can write again and again what you’d like to say until you feel comfortable with what you’ve come up with. Practicing what you’ve written would then allow you to feel less anxious when you actually do begin the conversation, because in a way, you’ve already had it before
By Jessica Seney, MHC intern