Opening up about your mental health with your friends and family can be difficult. It’s normal to feel apprehensive or even scared of how they may react. But starting the conversation can benefit your recovery and help ease the struggle of managing your mental health.
Our friends and family often act as a lifeline in our time of need. They can offer us support and reassurance when we need it most; and when struggling with mental illness is when we often need the most support.
While difficult, it’s important to be open, honest, and to maintain healthy communication with the important people in your life. In this article we’ll provide tips to help you better prepare and feel more comfortable sharing your mental health with loved ones.
Practice Telling People About Your Mental Illness
There’s the old saying, “practice makes perfect.” Taking time to practice speaking about your mental health can help you articulate your thoughts and feelings before opening up.
There are a number of ways that you can practice, from having a practice conversation someplace private, to writing down what you want to say – like the script in a play or movie. Alternatively, you can practice with your therapist as well.
However you decide to practice, be sure to try anticipating some of the questions or comments someone might have. Rehearse how you’ll respond to these questions. This will help keep your conversation focused and help you feel more comfortable.
Create a Safe Environment
When talking with your friends or family about your mental health, it’s important to feel safe and comfortable. One of the best ways you can accomplish this is through creating a safe environment.
Consider the location where you’d like to talk. It’s important to find a space that is convenient for you and whoever you’re opening up to. The space should also be conducive to open, personal conversation. So you’ll likely want to talk in a place that is private with limited distractions.
Also remember to consider time. Give yourself plenty of time to fully express your thoughts and feelings. It may be helpful to make sure both you and the person you’re talking with both have enough time to have a full conversation.
Be Specific and Clear About How You’re Feeling
It’s important to talk clearly and specifically about how your mental health is affecting your life. Make sure that you are carefully choosing your language. If you’re too vague or unclear, then the person you’re opening up to may be unable to fully grasp how your mental health is impacting your life, how you’re coping with it, and what they can do to support you.
One of the simplest ways to clearly explain your feelings is to use “I” statements. Use specific examples focused on how your mental illness is affecting your life. For example, statements like:
- “I sometimes feel very anxious while I’m out in public.”
- “My heart races and I worry that I may have a panic attack.”
- “It’s hard for me to go out and do normal things, like shopping for groceries, when I feel like this.”
Providing the other person with straightforward, clear details allows them to better understand and appreciate what you’re experiencing. It can also make it easier for them to understand how they can support you.
Learn to Cope with Negative Reactions
While steadily decreasing, societal stigmas and misconceptions about mental health disorders do still persist. Not everyone that you share your mental health with will react positively. In the event someone you’re opening up to does react negatively, it’s important that you do your best to remain steadfast and unperturbed.
One course of action that you can take is to attempt to educate the person about mental illness. Consider directing them to resources like nami.org or other reputable mental health groups. These sources of information can be helpful in increasing their understanding and acceptance of mental health.
However, do not let a negative response convince you that everyone you choose to open up to will respond in the same way. Friends and family are usually supportive, and despite one bad response, most people in your life will do what they can to support you. Stay positive and continue to practice honest communication.
Seeking Help for Your Mental Health
If you or a loved one is struggling with mental illness, finding support is an important part of recovery. Pyramid Family Behavioral Healthcare’s team of licensed therapists and psychiatrists are here to help individuals and families in the Atlanta, GA area. Contact us to learn more about our mental health treatment programs.