It can be scary to open up about mental health, particularly if you’ve been struggling with it for a long time. But doing so will allow the people in your life who love and care about you to be supportive and help. It will also give you the liberation of no longer living in fear of someone finding out about your struggle.
Every year Screening for Mental Health hosts National Depression Screening Day (NDSD) to encourage people to be proactive about their mental health and take a free, anonymous online screening. This year’s theme is Speaking Your Mind. Whether you tell one person, talk to a doctor or mental health professional or become an advocate for mental health awareness, it’s important to share your story to help yourself and help others.
More than 15 million adults in America experience depression in any given year. Opening up about your mental health can also help inspire others in your life who may also be dealing with a mood disorder speak about it or seek out help.
What’s most important is to think about who you want to tell and how much information you want to tell them. It might make sense for you to talk to your best friend about your mood disorder, but maybe that’s not the first person you want to open up to. You should think about who in your life will be the most supportive and understanding. If you have an aunt who is emotionally in-tune, she might be the right person to talk to, even if you’re not that close.
If you feel like you’re having a difficult time starting the conversation, here are some ways you might try approaching the topic with a trusted friend or family member.
- Prime the conversation. If you start by letting the person know that what you’re about to tell them is serious and important to you, they will be more likely to take you seriously. You might want to do this with a text or message, if that’s more comfortable for you. But starting the conversation by saying something like, “I’ve been having a tough time and need to talk to you about it,” could help.
- Write it out. It might help you gather your thoughts if you plan ahead of time and write out what you’re going to say. You don’t necessarily need to read what you wrote to someone, but it will help you make sure you say what you want to how you want to. Plus, feeling prepared might reduce the stress of the conversation.
- Use examples. When you’re discussing what you’ve been going through it will be easier for someone else to understand when you use specific examples. This will help a person who has never experienced depression to realize it’s much more than feeling down, and it will give them a sense of how they might be able to help you.
- Tell them how they can help. You’re reaching out to this person for a reason. You trust them. Let them know what they can do to help you.
- Ask that person to help you talk to others. If you want most people in your life to know about your mental health, and the first person you spoke to was helpful and supportive, ask that person to be there when you tell others who might not be as understanding. Having someone in your corner can make all the difference during those kinds of conversations.
If someone opens up to you about their mental health, here are some tips you can use to make sure they feel supported.
- Listen. When someone is opening up to you about their mental health – whether they have an official diagnosis or not – it’s important that you don’t make assumptions or jump to conclusions. Listen to them carefully and thoughtfully.
- Believe them. It can be easy to shrug off what someone is telling you or make a joke. But consider how much courage that person probably had to build up in order to start this conversation, and remember that they’ll probably need to reach out again. If they feel judged or dismissed, it might discourage them from trying to talk to you, or anyone else, about their problems in the future.
- Don’t treat them differently. Someone’s main concern with telling someone about their mental illness is that they will be ostracized or treated differently. They are sharing one piece of their lives with you, but it’s not their identity. They are the same person you knew before – they just have a few extra struggles that they’re finally being open about.
- Ask how you can help. It may seem difficult to find the right questions to ask or things to say after someone opens up to you, but remember that they chose to come to you for a reason. They will have the best idea on how you can help them start to feel better, so don’t be afraid to ask. Even if they don’t have something in mind, they’ll appreciate you care.
- You may need to tell someone. For the most part, you should remember that the person opening up to you is sharing private medical information, so you shouldn’t share it lightly. However, if someone tells you they’ve had suicidal thoughts, it’s imperative that you tell someone who can get them help that could save their lives. SMH’s Signs of Suicideprogram teaches students to ACT – Acknowledge, Care, Tell – when a friend tells them they’re having suicidal thoughts.
The truth is many people live in silence about their mental health. Like with any medical issue, it’s an individual’s right to only disclose what they feel comfortable discussing, but opening up about mental health disorders is the most effective way of fighting the stigma around it. The more people who share their experiences, the more other people will understand what these illnesses are really like, and the more acceptance will develop.
You can help support the campaign by using the hashtags #NDSD and #SpeakYourMind. For more information on the day, visit our website at mentalhealthscreening.org.