Starting a Conversation with A Loved One About Mental Health

two female friends talking about mental health

If you’re struggling with your mental health, bringing that to your friends and family can be intensely difficult. For example, many of us feel pressured to say we’re doing well, that we’re happy. Not doing so creates a drain on the other person and can feel like imposing or even ruining the mood. And, most of us with mental health problems experience severe self-doubt and low self-esteem. We might feel like we’re exaggerating, making things up, what if things really aren’t all that bad and all I have to do is pull myself together and try harder?

The thing is, you’re not making things up. Acknowledging and responding to your mental health problems in a healthy fashion means talking to your loved ones about them. The thing is, 20.6 percent of the United States population has a mental health disorder or a mental illness. It’s not rare or unlikely or even special that you, too, might be having problems. You might feel ashamed to talk about it, but you wouldn’t feel ashamed to talk about having lymph disease or having broken your arm. You’d take steps to talk to someone who could help you get treatment, to navigate your environment with your handicaps, and to get better. And, that’s exactly the approach you should be taking with a mental illness.

Start Where It’s Comfortable

It can be difficult to walk up to a friend or loved one and to go “I’ve been having a lot of problems with my mental health, I think I might be depressed”. That’s awkward, embarrassing, and requires a lot of trust of yourself and your relationships. Most people don’t have that. You also don’t have to force yourself to be that upfront. Start the conversation where you feel comfortable. Get used to saying that you’re having problems. Then, be upfront about it.

How can you do that? You can use a couple of tactics.

photo of a woman holding her phone trying to message a friend

Start with Text or social media – Start out by talking to your friend or loved one over a messaging app. Saying things like, “I don’t think I’m doing that well”, “I’ve been doing badly for a while now”, “I just feel really bad/down/anxious”, etc. These types of openers can allow you to get your figurative foot in the door on the conversation, without hitting your friend or loved one over the head with a big thing.

Write it Out to Yourself – The more you talk about your mental illness or mental health problems, the more comfortable you’ll be in talking about it. A good way to get started is to try to write it out to yourself. Writing a letter or a long email or text to yourself might seem silly. But you can be as open as you want about how life is going, how you feel, why you think you need help, etc. And, you can eventually use that as a template to share with your loved one or to simply share the letter with them.

Eventually, most of us are not comfortable opening up to others out of the blue. If you’re struggling with mental health, it’s even harder to do so.

Ask to Set Aside Time

It’s not fair to your loved one to open up to them while they’re trying to do something or have other plans. Ask them to set aside time for you. Mention that you want to work through some things. You could also mention that you want or need support. Setting expectations that this time will be about you and your problems is a good thing – because it means your loved one is more likely to be receptive and to have time and mental energy when they do show up.

That’s important, because your loved ones might not be doing that well themselves. Chances are, they have also noticed that you are having problems. If you go, “hey, do you have a few hours to sit down with me and talk? I’m having trouble and I’d like some support”, they likely know you’ve not been doing well. They care about you and they want to help and they will set aside that time.Find Resources to Share

photo of a woman searching for some articles about mental health online

If you know your loved one has little or no experience with mental health, it might be a good idea to find resources to share. One way to do that is to find articles talking about mental illness in ways that align with how you feel. That might be WebMD articles, it might be brochures from your doctor’s office or a Center for Mental Health Services. But, having how you feel put into words by someone else can make the whole thing easier to share. It also means that someone else has put this into words, usually from the perspective of knowing the terminology and where it’s from. That can be immensely helpful during communication.

However, you shouldn’t feel obligated to do so. It’s important to use your own words, to structure how you actually feel, and to share your real emotional pain with your loved one. This is about you and how you feel, not explicitly communicating the right things.

It’s Okay to Feel Awkward

Talking about yourself can be awkward even if you’re sharing positive things. If you’re sharing negative things, it’s that much worse. Chances are, you will feel awkward. Chances are, your loved one will too. That’s okay. The idea isn’t to be strong, stable, or capable. It’s to share how badly you’re doing, to move past the awkward silences, and to ask for help. That can be immensely difficult, no matter what your relationship is. Expect to feel awkward about it and expect to keep going anyway. If you need help, starting with phrases like can help:

  • “I’m just really struggling lately”
  • “I can’t get anything done”
  • “I just feel so bleak and hopeless”
  • “I don’t know if things will get better”
  • “I really need help”

Ask for the Communication You Want

Most of us were raised to see mental illness as a sign of weakness. Today, we know it’s not. Mental illness is a disorder or a disease, and treatable. When you start your conversation, communicate what you want from your loved one. That might be:

  • “I want to share my problems and be listened to and understood, I don’t need help finding solutions right now”
  • “I want to talk about my problems, and I’d like you to help me plan how to get treatment and help”
  • “I’m in a lot of pain and I don’t know what to do with that and I’d just like help”

Being clear about what you want and need from a conversation can be difficult, especially if you don’t know what that is. But it will allow you to direct your loved one to give the kind of input you need.

Eventually, if you are struggling with your mental health, it’s important to stop, look for help, and move into treatment. Mental health treatment can help you to learn coping mechanisms, to learn healthy behaviors, and to get emotional and psychological support as you manage your mental illness.  Starting a conversation with your loved one can be the first step to getting that help.

If you have any questions about mental health treatment, please contact us today. We are here to help and our experienced advisors are standing by to answer any questions.

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