Thanks to the many brave individuals and doctors who have spoken up about the significance of mental health, many parts of the world have taken great steps to destigmatize this previously-taboo subject. However, mental health can still be extremely difficult to talk to others about, especially when you choose to open up about your personal experiences. We unfortunately live in a world where people can still lose their jobs or even relationships simply by telling others about mental health, which is why we at Psych2go feel this subject is so important.
It is heartbreaking not to be able to talk to those in your life about your mental health, so we hope these ideas might help you begin or navigate an important conversation (Remember, everyone will be different!). Keep in mind that not everyone will be a willing participant of the conversation, so be sure to give it thought before deciding to open up to someone. Here are a few ways to tell others about your mental health.
1. Ask About Mental Health Generally
This tool can be especially helpful if you’re still trying to gauge whether or not to come forward about your personal mental health. The most subtle way to ask would be to bring up a current event regarding mental health––perhaps something that has recently been in the news, or the latest scandal in the book you’re reading. Asking a coworker what they know about accommodations, for example, gives you the opportunity to bring up the subject without drawing attention to yourself. If this is still too direct, though, you can always ask for advice about “a friend” who is struggling.
2. Give yourself plenty of time
Because a conversation about mental health can be deeply personal and emotional, it deserves all the time and space it needs. There may be questions or concerns that cannot wait to be brought up, and it can take some time to find the right words to explain what it is that you’re going through. You don’t necessarily have to schedule this conversation, and there are cases when you might just have to tell someone, but this is not something we suggest bringing up when you’re in a rush or on a tight schedule.
3. Tell them when it serves a purpose
You may choose to open up to someone about your mental health for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you can ask for accommodations at work or school, or it’s important to you that your friend knows why you’ve been so quiet lately. Whoever they are, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, they may be more responsive and eager to listen if they understand why it’s important that you tell them about your mental health. Thinking about this might also help you to organize your thoughts and decide what you really want out of this conversation.
4. Be straightforward
While it may be scary to open up about your mental health concerns, be sure that you actually say what you need to say. It’s true that it’s easier said than done to speak up for yourself, but (remember!) you are your first and best advocate. Only you truly know what you experience and how you feel, and you have as much of a right to express that as anyone else. True, some people may not understand mental health concerns the first time they hear about them, so you might need to change the way you word a thing or two. Whether that means reading from a prewritten script or writing a letter before having a face-to-face talk, make sure you stay true to yourself and are honest about how you feel.
5. Pay attention to their body language
When talking about mental health, it’s important to be attentive to the other person no matter which side of the conversation you’re on. Things can get confusing or overwhelming in a matter of seconds, so it’s a good idea to pay attention to when to put on the brakes. Little gestures such as crossed arms, leaning away, or avoiding eye contact can hint at discomfort even if their words say otherwise. Alternatively, body language might tell you when it’s the right time to move the conversation forward, or to begin one in the first place.
6. Compare mental health to physical illness
Sometimes, people might not get it. Perhaps they’ve never experienced mental health concerns, or this is a completely new conversion for them. If you need another way to describe what you’re experiencing, Mentalhealth.gov suggests explaining the parallel between mental health and physical illness.
“For example, many people get sick with a cold or the flu, but only a few get really sick with something serious like pneumonia. People who have a cold are usually able to do their normal activities. However, if they get pneumonia, they will have to take medicine and may have to go to the hospital.
Similarly, feelings of sadness, anxiety, worry, irritability, or sleep problems are common for most people. However, when these feelings get very intense, last for a long period of time, and begin to interfere with school, work, and relationships, it may be a sign of a mental health problem. And just like people need to take medicine and get professional help for physical conditions, someone with a mental health problem may need to take medicine and/or participate in therapy in order to get better.”