Creating Conversation Around Your Mental Illness

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 5 American adults experiences mental illness in a given year. That is 43.8 million people! You are not alone in this arduous struggle. Even though so many face this trial, there is often a great amount of shame that comes with mental illness that may inhibit you from telling people. This post will focus on how you can let others in.

Imagine if you had Ulcerative Colitis (an inflammatory disease of the digestive tract) and you told your family and friends about it. Your parents and friends would likely have many questions, would want to learn more about the disease itself, and discuss how they could help you. You would probably feel slight to no discomfort disclosing your medical condition and would welcome their help and support.

A mental illness is just as important and serious as a physical injury. Chemical imbalances that cause depression, bipolar, or obsessive compulsive disorder, are out of our control. Whereas we feel little discomfort sharing about a physical illness or injury, we often feel much discomfort and some shame around sharing our struggles with mental illness and thus remain silent. Last year, I wrote a blog post about taking the stigma out of mental illness and I stand by it. We have got to change the way we perceive and discuss mental illness! My purpose in this post is to give you a tangible first step to take. Instead of keeping it to yourself, reach out to your closest friends and family members. Not sure how to do that? Read on.

WHEN?

  • When you have a specific need. Maybe your friends have noticed your behavior being off. Maybe you need transportation to an appointment. Maybe you need your employer to be aware of your situation to receive accommodations at work. Maybe you need someone to be accountable to. Maybe you simply just need someone to talk to. Whatever the reason, it could be a trigger to help you summon the courage to be vulnerable and share your situation. It will make things easier for you in the long run.
  • When you choose. Disclosing something so personal needs to be done on your own time. Do not feel pressured or guilted by anyone (including yourself) to let people know on their timeline...do it for you, on your time.

HOW?

  • Set expectations. Prepare your listeners by informing them that you need their help and ask them to just listen. You might say something like, “There’s something going on in my life that’s been really hard. I need to talk to someone about it. Please don’t make light of it.”
  • Give a specific problem. There is no reason for you to beat around the bush. If you are having a hard time sharing your diagnosis, state how it began, or how you noticed a potential problem. “I started realizing something was off when I couldn’t sleep more than a couple hours at night. It’s been hurting my work and I feel out of control.”
  • Offer suggestions for support. People may feel unsure about how they can help you; it will be quite advantageous if you come prepared with ideas already in mind for how your support system can be there for you. You may want to request help finding a doctor or therapist (if one has not already been secured), rides to appointments/treatment, check-ins from family members, hugs from friends, listening ears from siblings, etc. Equip your people with specific ways they can assist you as you fight mental illness.

Mental illnesses are a challenge…period! Having a solid support system can help make things a little easier when things get hard. Those people you let in to your support system will comfort you when you feel alone, will be aware of what you are going through, will be able to check-in on you, and will provide a safe environment where you can honestly disclose what you are facing. Having that extra love and support will greatly aid you along the way.

Yes, letting others in about your mental illness can be daunting and scary, but all of the support, understanding, and accountability that comes with having others by your side will be worth it. I have helped many clients down this road, and the ones who take to treatment faster are those who have a support system to fall back on. If–even after reading this blog post–you are unsure about what to say or with whom to say it, please contact me today for help. It takes great courage to admit you need help, but you will reap positive dividends in the long run. Schedule a session with me today and we can take this important first step of forming your support circle together.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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