For many of us, talking about our mental health is a sensitive topic. Even though 1 in 5 Americans will experience some form of mental illness in their lifetime, it’s not uncommon for us to keep the details to ourselves. In fact most of my own clients report not talking about their mental health out of fear of rejection, shame or even being labeled “crazy.” And perhaps that’s the reason why only about 60% of Americans with a mental illness seek help.
Ironically, one of the best things we can do to improve our mental health is talk about how we’re feeling and seek help. According to Mental Health America, roughly 80% of people who seek help for depression feel an improvement and treatment for panic disorders has up to a 90% success rate. With stats like these, why wouldn’t you talk?
If you’re thinking about talking to someone, but aren’t sure where to start, we have a few suggestions for you:
Deciding who to talk to can feel risky or uncomfortable. Perhaps you don’t want people to worry about you or you’re worried as to how they’ll react, and how it will affect your relationship.
Start by making a list of those close to you. Consider who’s on your list. Are they understanding? Open minded? Do they have some previous experience with mental health issues? These are the people to put at the top of your list.
If you don’t want to talk with friends/family first, you can also try talking to a counselor. Many people find it comforting to talk to someone whose job it is to understand. A counselor can also help you practice talking to those who are close to you.
It’s often best to try and talk to people when you are in a good head space. It will be easier for you to articulate how and what you’re feeling during calmer times and to communicate your needs.
Talking also is best when you feel ready. This isn’t always possible, and sometimes we need to disclose earlier than we ideally want, but if you are able, take time to practice what you would like to say and think about the discussion thoroughly before hand.
HOW and WHAT
Planning what you want to say can help set you up for success. Consider including these three items when talking about mental health (adapted from NAMI.org):
Have a conversation about your conversation, be specific about the problem and determine your needs.
A conversation about your conversation – or talking about talking. This is a simple way to set up the expectations for your conversation before going into details. For example: I’d like to talk to you about something that’s hard for me and I’d like it if you could listen until I’m finished before you say anything.
Be specific about the problem – Talk about the specific symptoms you are experiencing rather than being vague. For example: I’m feeling nervous going into crowds, I worry that someone is going to hurt me and so I have been avoiding the grocery store. This helps the listener better understand what you’re going through.
Determine your needs – Often the person you are talking to will want to be of help. Think about how you’d like them to support you beforehand. For example: It would be nice if I could talk to you about this some more, and maybe you could go to the store with me sometime?
Know that talking to someone doesn’t mean you have to tell them everything all at once. Choose where you’d like to start and go from there as you feel comfortable. Keep in mind, sometimes people already have opinions and ideas as to what you should do or how you feel. It’s ok to reiterate that mental illness looks differently for everyone and this is how you are feeling.
If you’d like more information on how to talk to others about your mental health, check out NAMI.org where you’ll find resources, programs and support for everyone affected by mental illness. If you are feeling suicidal you might also want to look at: How to talk about suicidal thoughts.