Speaking Up: Starting the Conversation About Mental Health
The most difficult thing about discussing “taboo” subjects is beginning the conversation. When you bring your struggles with mental health to light, you’re exposing your most vulnerable self. With this in mind, it’s completely understandable to approach the topic cautiously. The judgement of others might be what keeps you from saying anything. What will they say/think? Will this change the way they see me as a person? Will this diminish the things I’ve achieved so far in my life? It’s for those very reasons that so many people choose to do nothing, continuing to suffer in silence for years and, sometimes, the rest of their lives.
How can we make the conversation about depression and mental health an easier one to have?
Keep An Open Mind
Let’s say you are the one suffering from issues with your mental health and you’re trying to come forward in order to address your problems. You’ve already got it in your mind that you either won’t be taken seriously or you’ll be judged as being a broken person, which has kept you from speaking up to this point. You’d rather suffer in silence than have those you care about look at you in a lesser way.
What you need to realize is that the people who love you want the best for you and will be there to help. You’ve put it in your mind that you’re alone with no help when, in reality, you’ve got more support than you think. You just need to ask them for it. Make the decision to start the discussion with someone you trust. Keep an open mind that they might be able to sympathize and offer you some help. “I’ve been struggling and I know that I can talk to you, right?”. As a friend, family member, loved one, etc., their response should be a 100% welcoming gesture to the conversation. Remember that you are loved and that speaking up is not only brave but, it’s smart.
Now let’s say your loved one is approaching you about their issues with their mental health. Do not jump to the worst case scenario. Clear your mind of any preconceived notions that you might have about the topic and listen to what they have to say. This isn’t an easy thing for them to bring up and they deserve your full attention. Listen to what’s been ailing them, how they’re being affected and help them come up with some solutions. Never assume that it’s something they’ll get over with one conversation. Dealing with depression, anxiety, any form of mental health is a process with no one-and-done solution.
Just Checking In
After you’ve talked about your problems, don’t be surprised when you start getting a bit more encouragement and attention than usual. I’m not talking about swarms of affection but, just the slightest change noticeable. Keep in mind that none of this is a “handle me with kid gloves” or “walking on egg shells” situation. You’re on the minds of those who love you. There’s nothing wrong with that. At first, it might feel like you’re being watched under a microscope even with the smallest increase of attention. But know that it’s all coming from a place of love and concern for your well-being.
Checking in on a loved one now and then afterwards is totally fine. Just don’t go overboard. The last thing you want to do is to overwhelm them with questions about their day, their mindset, their mood, etc., because that is guaranteed to push them away and regret speaking up. You can send a quick text or call here and there to check in and see what’s new but, keep it positive. If there’s anything they want to talk about, they will.
Problems can’t be solved without answers. Mental health is one of life’s trickier problems because there’s no end-all-be-all solution. And that’s a scary thought. When you speak up about your problems, it’s okay to feel unsure about the next step. Every person is different and everyone’s problems are different, too. There’s no one right way to deal with it. So, listen to all of the offers that are put on the table. Listen to your support system (friends, family, etc) for their opinions on what to do next. There may be more than one idea that sounds do-able to you. So, explore them and see what’s going to help.
It’s difficult to stand by while someone you care about suffers from any form of mental illness. Being someone they trust, brainstorm with them on what may help them with their struggles. Is there anything you can do to help? Do you have any suggestions on what their next step should be? They may seems nervous, scared or apprehensive about this part of the discussion but, it needs to be discussed to bring about any sort of change. You know it and they know it.
Try and Try Again
More often than not, the first solution attempted isn’t going to be the one that sticks. This can be discouraging, I know.
Personal Story Moment:
When I first opened up about my struggles with anxiety, I was greeted with support and understanding. I went to my doctor who asked me every question under the sun about what I was going through. Turns out, I was dealing with “hyper anxiety” and “acute depression”. I started my first form of medication which helped with my anxiety immensely. But it kept me up all night and made me drowsy during the day. So, we tried again. My second medication totally tackled my anxiety and depression but, I was still up all night. Apparently, insomnia is something else I was unknowingly dealing with. I just thought I had an overactive mind.
When I started my third try at medication, we got it right. My emotions and my managing of them has been so more easier, I can sleep at night and I’m not afraid of myself or the world around me. It took awhile to figure out what would work for me. Aside from my prescription, I read more often, I write when I can’t turn off my mind, and I do yoga as a way to relax and exercise. Progress is a process.
If the first try doesn’t work, that’s not the end. There’s a world of possibilities for those seeking help. If you’ve jumped the hurdles already, do what you can to help others. Knowing what it’s like to feel helpless can help. Being able to relate to others will help them to open up as well. Do whatever you can to bring awareness to the conversation. It’s a conversation that needs to be had if we’re going to make mental health an easier thing tackle.