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How to Talk About Your Mental Health

Despite the fact that 1 in 5 adults in the United States experiences mental illness in a given year, discussing with others, whether if it’s your friends, family, or co-workers, is still difficult. Mainly this is because the stigmas surrounding mental health that may make you feel embarrassed or judged. However, being open about your mental health can help you receive much-needed support and encouragement. As a result, this may alleviate stress and improve your mood.

If you’re ready to have this conversation, here are some tips to make it a little easier on you and the people you’re opening up to.

Be Brave

Rachel O’Neill, an Ohio-licensed professional clinical counselor, says that the first step is to be brave and acknowledge that it’s acceptable for you to feel how you feel.

“It’s okay to cry if you’re feeling sad,” she said. “It’s okay to feel anxious. Own your emotions and your experiences. Don’t apologize for what you’re feeling. Instead of focusing on trying to change your feelings or thoughts, focus on practicing acceptance around them.”

This is not easy. But, struggling with mental illness on your own is incredibly difficult. By confiding in others you may feel energized and their support could make all the difference in the world.

“Life is hard sometimes and the bravest thing you can do is to keep fighting for another day,” O’Neill said. “But the more we talk about how mental health issues impact lives, the more we can reduce the stigma that sometimes surrounds things like depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.”

Decide Who to Tell and When

Before discussing your mental other with others, decide who to tell. Family and close friends are a great place to start as long as you can be certain that they’re supportive, can help you find the treatment that you need, and won’t tell anyone else. Also, you are not obligated to tell your employer. However, if it is affecting your work then you may want to disclose this information with them.

After deciding who to tell, choose when you should talk to them. This can be whenever you’re comfortable. But, it should be before you reach a point of crisis.

Create an Environment That’s Comfortable For You

“Opening up isn’t easy. If you make the decision to talk with your friends or family about how you’ve been dealing with mental health issues, then you want to do it in a setting that feels as comfortable as possible for you,” writes Talkspace Therapist Jor-El Caraballo. “This varies from person to person,” but here are some However, there are some areas to consider:

  • Location. “Make sure the location you choose is accessible, both to you and whoever you decide to open up to,” adds Caraballo. Also, think about the visual space and noise level -- it should be private and free of distractions.

  • Time. “Be sure to set aside enough time in the environment for you to open up, as well as potentially allow your family remember to respond and ask questions. If you have limited time in whatever location you choose, this will add pressure and stress to the conversation.” Also, you should have this talk when you're not " actively experiencing mania, anxiety, depression, or psychosis."

When you’re ready to initiate the conversation, you may want to break the ice by finding resources, such as this one, to introduce the topic. Also, only share what you’re comfortable with and specifically explain what you’re feeling.

Also, if you don’t want to catch the other person off-guard, let them in advance that you want to have a serious talk with them. Practicing what you want to say to can clarify what you’re thinking. Start by writing down your thoughts and do a practice run.

Go in With a Goal

Dr. Kerulis, a professor for Counseling@Northwestern, Northwestern University's online masters in counseling program, suggests to “go into the conversation with goals in mind.” It can be as simple as just letting the other person know what your mental health status is. “And another can be to talk about ways that your friends can support you.” You don’t have to go into the conversation with big and lofty goals like, “Solve depression and anxiety for myself and everyone.”

It may actually be more beneficial to start with a small goal, such as discussing a recent diagnosis.

The Aftermath

“Sometimes, despite your best efforts, a loved one may react badly to your disclosure,” writes Elizabeth Lundin. “They may fail to understand your illness or fail to empathize with how you feel about it. “In my experience, there are two ways you can handle the situation: Try to educate the person further about what your illness means for you, or agree to disagree.”

Lundin says that, “Sometimes people will ask questions or express concern. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re judging you. Stay calm and address their concerns as best you can. If they refuse to understand or empathize, politely leave and distance yourself from that person until you’ve had some time to heal.”

“Not everyone will get what it’s like to be you, and that’s okay. But opening up to others is the first step to finding a supportive community. Once you’ve jumped this hurdle, you can focus on healing and learning how to enjoy life again — even with your mental illness,” concludes Lundin.

Additional Resources

If you’re still struggling with telling people about your mental health, then speak with a mental health professional. You may also want to use the following resources:

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