Just Talk About It
HOW TO START OPENING UP ABOUT YOUR MENTAL HEALTH
So, you get it: we want you to talk openly about your mental health. You’re on board. But how exactly do you start that conversation?
Actually talking about it can be a really difficult thing to do. It may seem easier to ignore texts or calls from those close to you or say you have a cold to get out of work rather than admit what’s happening. Sometimes, any excuse feels easier than saying to someone “I can’t stop crying” or “I’m struggling to find meaning in my life” or “I can’t leave my house without having an anxiety attack.”
The benefits of opening up are worth pushing through your fears: you could receive the encouragement you need, reduce stress, or even get help setting up appointments. It’s worth it, but we know the idea of sharing something so personal can be daunting. We’re here to help.
There isn’t a script to follow when it comes to opening up about your mental health, but here are some tips for having that conversation.
It starts with you
Acknowledging that you are struggling is the first step towards healing—but making the leap to telling someone else can be daunting. Set yourself up for success by doing a little homework ahead of time.
Write it down
Take a moment to think about what you’re feeling and write about it. Journaling can help you organize your thoughts and give you a clearer idea of what it is you’re looking for. Try writing an outline for your conversation so you don’t feel overwhelmed or lost when you start talking.
Do some research
It never hurts to know the facts. Reading about what you’re going through can help you to feel less alone in your struggles. Being well informed will likely help you feel more confident before you head into any conversation. Taking a mental health screening is one of the quickest and easiest ways to determine whether you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition and can help jumpstart a conversation with your trusted person.
Remember to breathe
Before you start the conversation, take some deep breaths and do your best to relax. While the conversation itself may be intimidating, it could alleviate some of the things that you’re feeling, just by opening up. Fight through the nerves, and consider trying meditation to center yourself before your conversation.
Who to talk to
There’s not a magical “perfect person” to open up to. Think about someone who loves you and genuinely cares about your wellbeing. Those are the people that are already in your corner, no matter what.
Your family, chosen or biological, can be one of the greatest resources in managing your mental health. They can help you carry the overwhelming aspects of your life and support you in your search for help. Family can be a wonderful source of strength as you continue to better your mental health.
Friends can keep you grounded and put things into perspective in a way that your family may not be able to. Sharing with your closest friends can lift off the weight of explaining away certain behaviors, and it opens up communication for the future. There’s always the off chance they’ll respond to how you’re feeling by saying “I deal with that too!”
Think outside the box
It doesn’t have to be a family member or your best friend. It can be easier for some people to open up to someone a bit removed from their life. Here are some other ideas:
Close family friend
Mental health professional
If you want to share with your coworkers or classmates, don’t feel like you have to tell the whole office or raise your hand in class to announce what you’re dealing with. Instead, pick a few people you’re close with and have a conversation over lunch.
Talk about it
Once you’ve found the person to talk to, it’s time to have the conversation. Try not to think about all the ways the conversation can go wrong, but instead imagine all the good it can bring into your life.
Send a text
If the idea of sharing openly with someone face-to-face scares you, try starting the conversation with a text message. It doesn't need to be complicated, you can just say "I have some things on my mind and want to talk to you about them." You can even let them know you're nervous to talk about it—letting them in on your fears may give them an opportunity to help you feel more relaxed.
You can also write a letter or send an email. It may be easier to tell them what you’re going through in the letter, and then talk about it in person. If you need some guidance on what to write, we’ve got you covered here.
Take your time
Share as much or as little as you want. You don’t have to think about it as a huge undertaking. Your first conversation can lay the groundwork of how you’re feeling, and every other conversation that follows can build from there. When you slow things down, both you and your confidante have a chance to process things little by little.
It’s okay to be serious
You might have the impulse to fake a smile or to make a joke to ease nerves when you’re opening up. But in the end, that can isolate us even more. You don’t need to make things light or downplay anything you’re feeling. Being clear and honest with your friends and family about what you’re going through can feel like a huge weight being lifted off you.
But it’s also okay to laugh
Don’t force lightness into your conversation to avoid being honest, but if something makes you laugh, that’s okay! Go with the flow and let yourself smile if you feel like it. Your conversation isn’t following a prescribed formula, so let it be what it is. Just be honest!
It doesn’t have to be perfect
No matter how much you prepare and think about what you’re going to say, it may not come out the way you planned. But go easy on yourself! All you’re really trying to do is let someone know that you are not feeling well and that you need help. It’s okay to say, “I’m not feeling like me, and I don’t know what to do.”
You don’t have to share everything
You can be honest and open without needing to share every detail. You don’t have to be an open book in order to talk about your mental health. This is one of the most personal things you can talk about; it’s ok to keep some aspects private.
If you don’t get a good response
A lot of the time, if you share how you’re feeling, you’ll be met with a better response than you expect. If the conversation makes you feel worse because of something the person says or does, know that they may not be the right confidante for you and choose someone else next time. Remember that your feelings are justified, even if someone’s reaction doesn’t show you that.
There may be questions
Whoever you share with will probably have follow up questions for you. Can you describe what you’re feeling like? What do you think is causing these feelings? It can be really challenging to put your feelings into words, so don’t feel pressured to answer every question you’re asked. But know they’re probably asking these questions to help understand what you’re feeling and how to help.
Keep it up
You’ve taken the first step, and it only gets easier from there. But things can’t just improve overnight. Here are some things to keep in mind after your first conversation.
You don’t want mental illness to define you. It’s something you’re dealing with, but it’s not you. Once you open up, don’t feel like you have to talk about it 24/7. Obsessing about what you’re feeling can cause you to get in your own way. Healing is a process, and starting the conversation is just the beginning.
If you find a community of people who can relate to your experiences and support you, great! That can be a huge help in your recovery. But if you find yourself surrounded by people only talking about the negative and not focusing on positive and healthy behaviors, you may want to look for a new support system.
Returning the favor
When you start a dialogue with someone about mental health, you may find down the road that they come to you to discuss what they’re feeling. Think about your journey and what helped you, and try to be there for them in the ways you wanted someone to be there for you. Always pay it forward!
When you’re healthy
You don’t need to be struggling to start a conversation. In fact, having a talk about mental health when you’re doing well can make it easier to have conversations when you’re down.
You can build a strong support system while you’re healthy to help pick you back up when you’re down. It’s always good to talk about your mental health.
Talk to a professional
Once you’ve opened the door into discussing your mental health, it’s worth finding a therapist, a counselor, a doctor, or a peer specialist. The more you talk, the more insight a professional can gain into why you’re feeling what you’re feeling. Professionals will provide you with constructive advice and give you the help that you need to keep getting better.
If you’re in crisis
If you’re in crisis, don’t wait. Your safety needs to be your first priority. Call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline or text MHA to 741741 to reach a trained Crisis Counselor at Crisis Text Line. If you are at risk of hurting yourself or others, call 911 immediately.
You’ve got this
Mental health is something that we should all be talking about, whether it’s a preemptive conversation when you’re doing well or at a low point in a time of need. There’s no doubt that being vulnerable and discussing how you feel with people in your life can be scary. But by opening up, you can receive the support that you deserve. And by choosing to share your story, you may be inspiring others to share their own. That’s an extremely powerful thing.