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How to open up about your mental health

by Amanda Collins

Are you thinking about opening up to a friend or family member about your mental health?

Talking about how you feel can make a huge difference to your recovery, but it’s also a very personal decision.

If you feel that you are ready to talk, you’ll find a few tips below that could help you break the ice and start a conversation.

talking about issues

What will they think?

It’s natural to care what other people think about you. It’s human nature. Often though, how we assume people will react is coloured by our own thoughts.

If you are feeling anxious or depressed, it’s more likely that you will imagine worst case reactions from friends and family, because that is how you feel.

However, people will often surprise you with their ability to care, particularly about those that they love.

Having said this, if you don’t feel safe telling a particular person about your struggles, don’t. You don’t have to.

If you decide to have the chat, prepare yourself for a variety of responses. Some people will be completely understanding right from the start. You may even find that there are more people than you ever imagined in your circle of friends and family that are struggling with issues themselves.

Also prepare yourself for the possibility that they won’t understand, or know what to say. Some may tell you to snap out of it, some may even be angry with you. But remember, that’s their issues coming out, not yours, and often their poor reaction is due to a lack of understanding of the subject.

Later, we’ll talk more about how to deal with a bad reaction, should it happen.

Start small and work up

It’s understandable that you’d be nervous about having a conversation about your mental health for the first time with a friend or family member. A great way to help ease yourself into it, is to practice on a stranger.

This may sound funny, but we’re not saying find a stranger on a bus to talk to, but rather, head to your local GP and chat to them about what you are going through. They will not only serve as a practice run, but they will be able to offer you a range of advice.

Your next port of call is to phone the amazing counsellors at either beyondblue (1300 224 636), Lifeline (13 11 44), or SANE (1800 187 263). These guys are trained to understand what you’re going through, and will really help you feel comfortable chatting about your struggles. They are free counselling services, and they will also help you with coping strategies and advice.

Now that you’ve got the ball rolling, you may want to make an appointment with a psychologist to have a longer, more in-depth discussion, to help you to get to the root of the problem and begin the process of healing.

Preparation, preparation, preparation

So now that you are ready to open up, it’s important to choose a time and a place where you are both comfortable, and there is plenty of time to have a longer chat.

You could have a few opening lines rehearsed, so you are not stuck for what to say when the time comes.

Opening lines could be:

  • “This isn’t easy for me to say, but I’ll try to explain.”
  • “I’ve been pretending things are okay for a while now, but really I’m actually feeling depressed/anxious.”
  • “I may get upset talking about this, but I wanted to let you know that I’m suffering from…”
  • “Lately I’ve been really…”

Next, tell them how you have been feeling and how it has affected your daily life.

You could say things like:

  • “I feel anxious all the time, I can’t sleep and I am having trouble getting through the day.”
  • “I am tired all the time, and I can’t stop crying.”

It’s important that you know that you are in control of this conversation, you are the one who decides how much you want to share.

Finish up by saying how this person can support you.

You may say things like:

  • “I just need someone to talk to now and then.”
  • “If you see me start to panic, I need you to…”

Write a letter or an email

If having a face-to-face chat is too overwhelming, write a letter or an email.

Writing will give you a chance to really think about what you want to say and how you want to say it.

Just like having a conversation, start the email by telling the person how hard it is to open up about your struggles.

Next you could write about all the ways you are feeling and how this has been affecting you.

Finish off by expressing what type of support you would like from that person. It could be as simple as “I would really like to chat to you from time to time” or “I may need some help around the house because I am not coping at the moment.”

Hugs can help

Give information

Pay a visit to the beyondblue, SANE or Black Dog Institute websites. They offer loads of information about mental health conditions and their treatments.

It may be a good idea to print off some of this information to hand to the person that you chat with so that they can get a better insight into what you are going through.

Alternatively, if you write a letter, you could print out this information and staple it to your letter, or if you send an email you could provide the website links to the pages that are relevant.

The more you arm those around you with information about your condition and treatment options, the better equipped everyone is to help and understand you.

Dealing with a negative response

People are not perfect, and when there is a lack of knowledge coupled with fear and worry, it can make them say and do things which are not kind.

If you have opened up to someone and they have reacted negatively it can make you feel hurt and isolated.

To stop this in its tracks, you need to remind yourself that their reaction is a reflection of their lack of knowledge, and sometimes of their fear of being unable to fix the problem. It actually has nothing to do with you.

You are not alone, and there are millions of people out there that understand exactly what you are going through.

Don’t let the person’s negativity rock you. Instead, if you feel you can, tell them how their reaction made you feel.

For example: “When you told me to snap out of it, it made me feel like a failure.”

Next, you could suggest better ways that they could support you.

For example: “I really need you to listen to me when I talk and give me a hug when I cry.”

Remember to pass on the information you’ve found from beyondblue or any of the other support services at this point. The more they know, the more they can begin to understand where you’re coming from.

Change does not happen overnight and sometimes it may take a while for them to get to grips with your situation. If this is the case, it’s important that you begin to talk to other people about your struggles to get the support that you need.

helping hands

You can do it

Once you start to open up it can feel like a weight is being lifted off your shoulders. Having those around you understand what is going on can be a huge help to your recovery.

Whether you tell one person, or a whole group of people, it’s important to have a support structure around you, even if it’s just so that at the end of the day you can cry and have someone sit there and just hold your hand.

Having the first conversation about your mental health struggles can really change your life.

Do you want to help others?

If you have a real passion for helping others then a career in counselling or community services may be the perfect fit for you. Study online in your own time and get the skills you need to make a real difference in peoples lives.

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