Here’s How to Talk About Mental Health With Family

Opening up about mental health can be undoubtedly challenging. You may feel afraid, guilty, or even embarrassed about your symptoms. You might try to suppress or minimize your feelings because you don’t want to be a burden. And if you’ve had a poor experience of telling others in the past, you probably don’t want to repeat it. 

That said, having a support system is crucial. Moreover, learning how to talk about mental health with family can make a tremendous difference in your treatment and recovery. Here are some key considerations.

Consider the Risks

Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about mental health, and many people still stigmatize certain symptoms and diagnoses. Subsequently, some of your loved ones may not be able to offer you the support or resources you need.

Considering the benefits and risks of sharing your mental health is crucial. You may want to start your disclosure process by identifying a few people whom you consider to be “safest.” Ideally, these people have already demonstrated the ability to be compassionate, understanding, or otherwise validating in difficult situations.

When it comes to who can offer you support, quality is more important than quantity. Even having just one or two people in your corner can make a world of difference. 

Choose a Good Time 

If you feel anxious about approaching the subject, plan your discussion in advance. Consider an optimal time and location. 

For example, where do you typically feel most comfortable? Is it in your own home? Over the phone? In a group setting? Think about where you feel safest and plan your discussion to happen there.

Remember that there isn’t generally a perfect time to talk about your mental health (especially if you feel nervous). However, you can try to minimize triggers and enter the conversation with a positive mindset. Some people find it easier to discuss their feelings after experiencing a significant stressor. Others aim for a more neutral time where things feel relatively smooth.

Be Specific

Try to be as clear and concise about your experiences as possible. Being specific increases the chances of other people understanding the situation.

Some examples of this include:

  • “I have been feeling anxious for the past year.”
  • “I think I might be depressed. I’ve been feeling sad and irritable. It’s also been hard for me to eat enough and reach out for support.”
  • “I know I haven’t told you yet, but I’m receiving treatment for bipolar disorder.”
  • “I have been struggling with my drinking again. I know I haven’t been honest about it.”

Try to be open and receptive to questions. Avoid defensiveness- people usually just want clarity before making assumptions. 

With that in mind, it’s beneficial to consider how much you want to disclose beforehand. It’s okay if you aren’t ready to share everything just yet. Practicing vulnerability can be challenging, and you deserve to feel prepared for that risk.

Avoid Blaming 

Loved ones might assume responsibility for your mental health. Some people may feel guilty or angry at themselves for overlooking your struggles. Others might believe they somehow caused your feelings.

It can be helpful to validate their concerns while emphasizing that your mental health isn’t their fault. Taking this ownership is beneficial for you. First, it reminds you that you are responsible for your recovery. Likewise, it can be reassuring to grant your family permission to avoid blaming themselves for what’s going on. 

Ask For What You Need 

This can be the hard part, but it’s also one of the most important parts. We are social creatures, and we naturally need others to help us in this lifetime. 

Chances are, your family wants to help you. However, they just might not know the best way to approach the situation. Some family members might just guess, but their guesses could be entirely wrong. Others will avoid doing anything because they don’t want to make a mistake and offend you.

Reflect on what you need ahead of time and challenge yourself to practice assertiveness by asking for it. Some common things to ask for include:

  • Help with finding treatment or mental health providers.
  • Financial support for treatment.
  • Encouragement and emotional support.
  • Other practical resources (help with housing, work, etc.)

Why Therapy Helps When Learning How to Talk About Mental Health With Family

Mental health can be complex and confusing. It’s normal to oscillate between conflicting emotions, but those whirlwinds can feel exhausting.

Therapy offers a safe and inclusive space to share your experiences. If you want to learn how to talk about mental health with family, your therapist can help you navigate those conversations.

Furthermore, if you don’t have a supportive family, therapy can provide reassurance and guidance during this time. 
Regardless of your circumstances, you don’t have to suffer in silence- or alone. Contact us today to get the support you deserve.


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