You Have Decided to Stop Struggling in Silence: Now What?
May is FINALLY here and with it comes sunshine (sometimes, it is still Western PA afterall), growing grass, blooming flowers and Mental Health Awareness Month! If you have been struggling with or working on something related to your mental health, this blog is for you. Thinking about whether to tell the people in your life about your mental health journey understandably can bring up a lot of conflicting thoughts and emotions. You may have a deep desire to be seen and known for the truth you are experiencing, but at the same time you may worry that you won’t be understood or accepted. A lot of emotions can surface full force, such as:
Emotions over sharing your mental health status with others
Notice that not all of the emotions are bad ones, you may have a mix of both pleasant and unpleasant feelings.. The prospect of letting others into your inner world can be outright terrifying. However, if you choose to be open about what you’re experiencing, you are not only speaking your truth, but you are helping to break the stigma surrounding mental health issues! Maybe you’re tired of feeling like you’ve had to keep things a secret, and being isolated has contributed to some of your unhappiness.
What to consider when debating the who, where, when, how, and how much you may want to tell others about how you are feeling
First and foremost, it’s important to remember that it is entirely your choice who you tell about your mental health status. You don’t have to tell anyone if you don’t want to. However, there is some truth to “secrets keep you sick,” and you may feel as though you are not living authentically if you keep everything inside. Ask yourself what you hope to gain from telling someone about your struggles with mental health. Are you trying to gain acceptance or validation? Those things have a lot to do with the other person’s reaction, which is completely out of your control. Make sure that you are telling someone for yourself more so than for them. Practicing honesty can be a good motivation for disclosing mental health strugles to a trusted friend or family member. Remember, once you’re “out,” you can’t “untell” something, so be sure that you are prepared to deal with what people may or may not do with the information you’re telling them.
Where and When?
Ideally, doing “the telling” would take place in person, face-to-face, with minimal distractions. Things can get misinterpreted via email, text message, and even voice calls. Plus, if you’re going to be honest about something so personal, you want to own your decision to do so. Trying to have a serious conversation in a loud cafeteria may not be the best choice. Try to set up a more intimate setting for a serious conversation–maybe a quiet coffee shop or someone’s residence. You may even want to prime the person you’re telling with something like, “I’ve really been wanting to talk about something important with you, can we set up a place and time to do that soon?” The timing of telling someone about your mental health is important too: if you’ve just had a breakthrough in therapy and things are raw, you will want to make sure you are prepared to be able to take care of yourself enough to have a tough conversation. Check in with your own stability to make sure it’s a good and safe time for you to let a new person into your inner world.
How and How Much?
This one can be tricky. Again, try not to be too attached to the outcome/the other person’s reaction. If you simply tell someone, “I have been struggling with depression,” that might not seem to be “enough” to really convey your true struggle! Writing down the details you want to share beforehand can be a really helpful way to make sure that you say exactly what you want to say, no more, no less. Remember, you don’t have to share every detail if you don’t want to. A good list of talking points may look something like this:
Talking Points for Sharing Your Mental Health Struggles
- I’ve been struggling with depression
- Some days it’s hard for me to get out of bed
- I’m easily overwhelmed
- I’ve been seeing a counselor and I might try medication
- Things are a little better, but not where I want them to be
- When I cancel plans with you I feel awful, but sometimes I just don’t have energy to interact
- I want you to know I care about you
- I would like assurance that you are still my friend
In the same vein, be prepared if your trusted confidant has questions! Again, you don’t have to answer them, but you may want to have some language in mind so you don’t feel put on the spot if you don’t want to go into detail about something. You might say something like “I’m so happy that you care enough to ask, but I am not ready right now to go into that. Thank you, though. I might be ready sometime.”
It might be a good idea to make sure you have something positive planned after your “coming out” conversation, whether that’s exercising, having a hot bath, doing something else you enjoy, or even having a session with your counselor! A lot of things can come up surrounding the other person’s reaction that would be good to process. You might feel some relief, or maybe it didn’t go the way that you had hoped. Either way, try to be kind to yourself and commend yourself on your bravery. Whenever you share part of yourself it’s a risk, because you don’t know how the receiver is going to react. Journaling about the experience can be helpful, as well as writing about if you feel like a follow-up conversation is needed at some point, or how you might handle opening up to other people in the future. Counselors can help a great deal with preparing for these tough conversations as well as self-care afterward. Click here if you would like more information about “coming out” regarding mental illness.
So why a Whole Month for Mental Health Awareness?
With 20% of the population of the United States experiencing some form of mental health issue at any given time but only 60% of those affected seeking treatment it’s hard not to ask the question why. Why are people struggling in silence? Why are they forcing on smiles, keeping secrets and hiding their depression, their anxiety, their pain behind closed doors? Quite simply its because the stigma of seeking helps sucks! We have created a society of ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ mentality that looks down on people who admit that they are struggling or ask for help. We have accepted diabetes, muscular skeletal issues or ‘visible’ illnesses as valid but look down on people who have the invisible illnesses in the mental health spectrum. There is plainly just too much stigma around the whole area and this is something as a society we NEED TO FIX! All month long you will see posts, articles, blogs, commercials and signs promoting the importance of mental health. Take the time to slow down and notice them, start conversations with friends and families about them and take a step forward in your treatment of yourself and those around you. If you are not not on your own mental health journey, validate the path of someone who is. Look, listen and connect to those around you. Take the stigma out of a struggle that affects 1 out of every 5 people you come in contact with.
Mental Health Awareness Month Events:
Lawrence County System of Care is having their 5th Annual Stomp Out Stigma Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day: May 9th @ 3:00 PM at Cascade Park in New Castle.
Fantastic FREE Community event aimed at bringing awareness of mental health issues and treatment and reducing the stigma of children seeking care. Full of activities for your kids:
FOOD •CHINESE AUCTION •PONY RIDES •PHOTO BOOTH
FACE PAINTING •DJ & MORE!
Never Stop Learning:
NAMI: Mental Health by the Numbers: National statistics for children, adolesent and teen mental health in America
Lawrence County Crisis Line: 724-652-9000
UPMC Jameson: 724-658-9001
Thinking about counseling?
Blog Credit: Natalie Drozda, MA, LPC is a PH.D student in Counseling Education and Supervision at Duquesne University and soon to be clinician at Angelus Therapeutic Services.