How to start a conversation about your mental health… even when you’re dead scared.
In this post I’m going to be talking to you a little bit about opening up to the people in your life about your mental health. I know this can seem like a HUGE mountain to climb, but you’ve got this I promise - we’re going to get there together.
Before we get into it - let’s talk a little bit about why it’s important to start talking in the first place.
Even if you subscribe to the bare minimum stats (which are only the tip of the iceberg) 1 in 4 of everybody will receive a mental health diagnosis. This alone means that you could be missing out on the chance to really connect with at least 25% of everyone you know on a much deeper level.
There’s something really special about having an important chat with someone who really understands what you’re going through and you do have people in your life who understand you, and many more who would love to learn more about what you’re going through.
Why are you even reading my blog? Chances are, it’s because it makes you feel better to know that you’re not alone in living with mental illness. Well, the good news is that you’re going to feel like that every time you have a proper connection over your mental health with someone in your real world life too. And the REAL bonus - they might benefit in exactly the same way.
OK, so now that you’ve got this far: let’s get down to business.
Choose someone you trust.
Not all relationships are created equal. The important thing to think about when picking someone to open up to about mental health is to consider “Who has my best interests at heart?” - this isn’t necessarily the person who always agrees with everything you say, but should be someone who you know wants the best for you.
Choosing the right person to open up to is the best way that you can make sure the first conversations go smoothly and at your pace.
If you’re really stuck for ideas, try reaching out to the mental health community on Twitter - we chat about mental health A LOT and we love making new friends and guess what? YOU ARE INVITED. Come say hi.
Time it right.
Blurting out your truths in the middle of an argument is tempting and can certainly feel irresistible at times and it’s not that you are the only one responsible for how this conversation develops, but protecting your own safety and emotions is so important here. Try to plan this chat, at least a little bit.
Choose a time and place that really allows you the space and freedom to open up and with minimal distractions. Wherever you usually feel at home in the world is a good bet.
Go with your gut
It’s good to start small, but if the conversation is going well it’s totally ok to spill ALL your tea. Really open your heart to this conversation from the very start, try to trust the person you are talking to and know that even if it doesn’t go well you have still DONE WELL.
Here are some things you can say to get the ball rolling:
- I want to talk to you about how I’ve been feeling unwell recently
- I’ve been going through some stuff, can we talk about it?
- I want to talk to you about my mental health because I trust you
- I have a mental illness, can we talk about it?
- I haven’t been feeling myself and I want to talk about why…
- Could we chat about my mental health?
You can also start by addressing specific triggers/ situations that you would like to get off your chest:
- e.g. I am sorry that I have been cancelling on you a lot lately. I find social settings very difficult and it’s really important to me that you understand it isn’t anything to do with you or my not wanting to see you.
What to do if the conversation goes badly…
Sometimes people don’t want to talk about mental health and you can be faced with what feels like rejection. It’s important to try to go into this conversation knowing that you only have control over your share of what is said and that someone else’s reaction could be the opposite of what you’re hoping for. This isn’t a reflection of you. You haven’t failed.
There are so many different elements at play here, all you can do is approach the subject openly and honestly and hope that what you’re saying is well received. Most of the time, it will be - so don’t let the fear of it going wrong stop you from trying.
If you do find yourself faced with judgement or being misunderstood, all is not necessarily lost. People can be open to learning, which is one of the most beautiful things about being human. Think about asking where certain preconceptions were learned, direct the person to resources that you feel explains your mental health in a way you can relate to (blogs, articles and videos are all great for this), revisit the conversation after some time has passed.
Remember: it isn’t you job to MAKE someone understand what you’re going through, they don't have to understand right away, but if they love you they should want to. Spend your energy on recovering and surround yourself with people who do want to understand and support you.
This is your life and you get to set the boundaries wherever you want them to be, don’t force yourself into confrontation for the sake of awareness.
Hopefully your conversation will go well and you’ll add a new dimension to one of your relationships, talking is the best antidote to feeling isolated by your illness.
There isn’t a right or wrong way to explain your mental illness and it’s important that you stay true to yourself and do this in the way you are most comfortable.
Not everyone will understand your journey. That's OK. It isn't for them.