Telling your loved one about your mental illness or mental health struggle can be an incredibly difficult thing to do. It is hard to admit that you are struggling, but it is SO important to share with others how you are feeling.
Let’s think of it this way – if your leg was broken, would you try to hide this from your family members and friends? Would you try to avoid going to the doctor to seek help, because you were worried about what they may think? Would you suffer in silence for months on end without receiving care?
Mental health issues are as important as our physical ailments, and can impact our lives drastically. However, the stigma attached to mental health issues often leaves people suffering in silence for months, or even years. This is why we are so passionate about talking about these issues on the blog! We want to open the conversation so that all of us will start talking about mental health issues and the way we are ALL impacted by them in some capacity.
Telling your loved ones about your struggles can be very challenging. However, just as it is important to share our physical ailments so that we can be supported and accommodated, we also need to share our mental health concerns.
If you are having trouble sharing your mental health struggles with your loved ones, check out these important tips!
Decide who you want to tell
Sharing your mental health struggle is an incredibly intimate and personal thing. It should be your decision when you share this information, and who you share this information with. The people that you decide to tell should also be people that you love and feel safe with.
Prepare your listener for the conversation
Instead of choosing a random time to talk about your struggles, prepare your listener for the conversation. You may want to simply say something along the lines of:
“There is something important I wanted to talk to you about, when is a good time to talk?”
“I want to talk to you about something serious, and I would appreciate if you don’t joke or laugh about what I am about to share.”
“I want to show you an article that I read that stood out to me, do you have some time later to talk?”
Preparing the listener for the conversation helps ensure that you actually have the conversation. This also makes the person aware that you are about to share something sensitive and personal. Showing them a relevant article may be a good way to break the ice with your loved one and could help open up the conversation.
Define what your struggle means to you
When you are having the conversation about your mental health struggles, it is important that you are specific about what it means to you.
Telling someone that you have anxiety may not give them an understanding of what you are truly going through.
Instead of: “I have anxiety.”
“Whenever I try to leave the house, I get thoughts in my head that tell me something horrible is going to happen and it makes me afraid to leave.”
“I haven’t been able to sleep well at night for a few months because of my anxious thoughts, and it is making me feel like I can’t make it through the day.”
Instead of: “I feel depressed.”
“I have started missing days at work, and I’m worried if I don’t get help I won’t leave my house.”
“I have a hard time finding the motivation to get out of bed in the morning, and sometimes I stay in bed all day. I feel scared that I won’t ever feel like myself again”
Whatever the label of your struggle is, put it into clear terms that the person you are talking to can understand. This will help ensure that they understand what your struggle means specifically to you.
Tell your loved one how they can support you
Family and friends often want to jump in right away and help in their own way, but we don’t always find that to be truly helpful. To avoid this frustration, explain to your loved one what you are looking for from them.
“I know my sleeplessness is causing me to struggle during the day as well as at night. I think I need to talk to a doctor about this, but I am nervous. Could you come with me to an appointment?”
“I am not allowed to drink alcohol with the medication I am on for my depression. It would be helpful if you can hold me accountable to this when we are out, and offer me support when it is difficult to say no.”
“Sometimes my anxiety makes it really hard for me to go out in social situations. When I step out during our big family event, can you allow me to have a few minutes alone to gather my thoughts?”
Boundaries are important to set right away. When talking to your loved ones, tell them only what you feel comfortable sharing. Also remember that they are not qualified counselors/therapists and they should not be treated as such. Be clear with your loved ones about when you want advice, and when you want them to just listen.
If they try to discredit your struggles, gently remind them that you know yourself best. Remind them of how they can support you, and how it makes you feel when they discredit how you are feeling.
Also you can set boundaries on how much you want to share! Feel confident saying “I am not ready to talk about that right now” or “I’d rather not share that”.
Remember that everyone comes with their own experiences and opinions, and it may mean that you have to repeat yourself several times before you come to an understanding on boundaries.
“Now that I have explained to you how I feel and how I can be supported, I want to let you know that I do plan to see a therapist and feel confident that I can talk to them about the specifics of my struggle. If you could just check in with me every couple weeks to make sure I am still going to therapy that would be great.”
“It was very difficult for me to bring this up, and when you joke about my struggles that really hurts me. If you could please respect this, and listen to me, I would really appreciate it.”
If you already have a diagnosis that you are bringing up to your family, it may be beneficial to bring handouts with information about that diagnosis. This may help your family and friends develop a deeper understanding about what you are struggling with.
If you have a hard time verbalizing your mental health struggles, it may help to write a letter that you can give to your loved ones, sharing everything you were hoping to say. You could read the letter to your loved one, or have them read it before you talk.
The National Institute of Mental Health has some great resources here.
Practice, practice, practice
Before you talk to your loved one about your mental health struggles, practice doing all of these steps. You may want to write out what you are going to say and practice reading it. You may find it helpful to practice with your therapist, doctor, or a trusted loved one that already knows about your struggles. Practicing this will help you feel confident and ready to have this discussion!
Talking about your mental health struggles can be a very difficult thing to do. If you feel like you are ready to share your struggles with your loved ones, it can be helpful to do the following steps:
- Decide who you want to tell, and what you want to tell them.
- Prepare your listener for the conversation.
- Define what your struggle means to you.
- Suggest the ways your loved one can support you.
- Set boundaries.
- Provide resources.
- Practice, Practice, Practice.