Families approach communication in many different ways. Some are extremely open and to the point, sharing feelings of joy, sadness, and frustration freely. Others are more closed off and private, leaving feelings to be dealt with behind closed doors. Many families find themselves falling somewhere in between.
But when it comes to heavier topics, like mental health, communication tendencies can be a completely different ball game. It may be an unfamiliar territory or family members may be uncomfortable, not knowing how to respond correctly. That makes determining the best way to talk about mental health with family members challenging. However, it’s not impossible. Here are a few tips to make planning and executing a mental health conversation with loved ones more manageable.
Be In-Touch with Your Situation
When preparing to talk with family about your mental health, it’s important to think through everything you’re experiencing. One way to do this is by writing down your symptoms as they happen. Be as specific as possible and make a note of any context that could paint a clear picture. Whether you’re losing sleep overthinking from anxiety or noticing your appetite has decreased, it’s important to have it documented.
The benefits of doing so are two-fold. On one hand, you’re able to analyze how you’re feeling and identify the ways mental health impacts your life. On the other hand, your family will be able to better understand your point of view. Grasping what you’re feeling and how that impacts daily life can make understanding easier for those not experiencing it.
Of course, you’ll want to avoid diagnosing yourself in this process because mental health can present differently in different people. Plus, self-diagnosis may lead you to make medical decisions that end up doing more harm than good. Instead, leave diagnosing mental health to professionals. Focus on identifying how you experience mental health, not a label, to ensure you can communicate where you’re at with others. From there, it’s easier to determine treatment options to explore because your symptoms will inform how to proceed.
Create Talking Points
Discussing heavy topics can bring up a lot of emotions. You may feel overwhelmed at the thought of sharing something so personal. You might have a fear of being judged. You may feel uncertain about how your words will be received. All of those feelings are valid and understandable.
To help manage those emotions and ensure you get your point across, create talking points ahead of time. These are short, easy-to-remember highlights of the main effects you wish to share. You’ll want to have enough detail to get what you want out of the conversation. What that might be is up to you, but many people want support, resources, or someone to listen.
Want to take it a step further? Consider adding relevant source material that your family can check out on their own. Seeing mental health professionals or examples from others in similar situations can make things click for your family. They may still have questions and might not completely understand, but at least they’ll get the main points. From there, you can work together to research options and work toward finding ways to help.
Know the Who, When, and Where
Difficult conversations tend to fall by the wayside in favor of lighter ones. Being vulnerable can be daunting and often leads people to avoid starting the conversation altogether. But that doesn’t help when you’re wanting to discuss mental health. In some cases, waiting could make your situation worse. Remember the following factors when planning your mental health chat with loved ones.
Who to Talk to
You may think of your mom as your best friend. Or maybe you have a sibling or cousin who is your confidant. Those kinds of close-knit relationships can be a great place to start when needing to share about mental health. From there, you can plan how to share with others or decide if it’s best kept between the two of you. Either way, who you tell is important and starts building your support network.
When to Have the Conversation
Knowing when to have the conversation can be instrumental in making it happen. If you tend to procrastinate, choose a day sooner rather than later. If you want time to plan meticulously so you feel prepared, maybe opt for a time a few weeks out. Either way, having a designated time to discuss where you’re at and what you’re feeling will make getting help easier.
Where You’ll Chat
It’s best to create a controlled environment for maximum comfort. You’ll be talking about personal experiences, which warrant privacy. If you’re talking to one or two people, maybe plan on chatting in your bedroom. For larger groups, consider a bigger space in your home like a living room. No matter where you choose, remember to find a space that you feel comfortable in to speak openly.
Although relationships can be complicated, it’s important to remember why you’re sharing with your family. They love and care about you. They want you to thrive and live as happy of a life as possible. Unfortunately, mental health concerns can stand in the way and make enjoying life harder to achieve.
But taking the step to be vulnerable and share how you feel can make getting help easier. It can transform your life and strengthen your relationships. Ultimately, it can be a life-changing decision. And it all starts with finding the courage to have tough conversations with loved ones.