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Posted on: January 22, 2020 | Dr. Julia Hood Ph.D., BCBA, NCSP

A man talking with his sone about mental health obstacles with his son.

When contemplating how to discuss mental health issues with family, you need to remember that you have done nothing wrong. Many times, people erroneously believe that mental health problems signal some type of failure. Whether you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or another condition, it is not something you could avoid. One of the best things you can do to improve the success of your current mental health treatment is to share your struggles. Consider some of these strategies when broaching the subject at your next family get together.

How To Choose the Right Time to Talk About Your Mental Health

A photo of a family talking about mental health in the kitchen before lunch.
Happy black family at their kitchen island, talking and preparing a family meal together

Now that you have found a treatment regime that is working, you are at a point where you want to tell people about it. You may have already fielded questions from friends, family and coworkers, but perhaps you never felt comfortable really opening up and discussing your mental health. Since your goal is to improve your mental health, forcing you to disclose your condition before you have a grasp on it does nothing but place more pressure on you.

Now that you have accepted your condition and are taking steps to treat it, you want to let close family and friends in on your situation. The reason behind this is a basic human need: support. In trying times, people tend to succeed when they have others on their side. In the case of battling a mental health concern, the support may come in the way of a friendly ear, a person who can go with you to appointments when medication makes driving hazardous, or someone who will just casually check-in to check on your progress. 

Ultimately, the time to talk to your family is when YOU feel comfortable opening up and sharing. When you are ready, we at Highland Springs Specialty Clinics are here to help.

How To Explain Your Mental Health Condition

Your loved ones will have questions about what is going on, and as such, you should be prepared. You may have a decent hold of what your condition is and how you are treating it, but can you explain it to others? A therapist may help guide you through the explanation process, making it easier to field any questions. Below are two examples of common mental health conditions to help you explain, but your therapist can also provide you with information to help you better share information with your family and friends

  • Depression – Depending on your diagnosis, depression is something that can happen at any time and to anyone. While some depression is situational, this is not always the case. This type of depressive episode comes on after a period of high emotional stress. For example, if you recently ended a long-term relationship, or suffered a loss, it is not uncommon to have depressive states. However, if this mental episode continues too long, it can turn into clinical depression. In this type of variant, the brain is unbalanced because the chemicals responsible for mood stabilization are not made consistently. Clinical depression can last for years and may require a combination of talk therapy and medication. If left untreated, it can lead to severe consequences, like suicidal thoughts.
  • Anxiety – People assume that anxiety is stress and should be easily overcome. While it is reasonable to experience periods of anxiousness, like before a work presentation, others may have these uneasy feelings almost all the time. When fear and worry take over your life, leaving you crippled, you may have an anxiety disorder. Medication and therapy have been found to help those dealing with this condition. Relaxation techniques, such as yoga or meditation, may also help in keeping the worrisome feelings at bay.

How to Talk About Mental Health Around the Table

Now that you are ready to discuss your mental health with family, take a deep breath. Wait until everyone is gathered together, around the table or the fireside, and take the plunge. Use plenty of “I” statements in your presentation. Utilize phrases like, “I feel better now that this is out,” so that your family understands these are your feelings. When people speak from the heart and use “I” statements, others tend to act much more empathetically. Once you finish, sit back and allow the news to sink in before continuing. There is a good chance that you will be met with support and gratitude for sharing your struggles. You may even learn that someone else around the same table has been dealing with similar issues.

When you are ready to talk about your mental health with others, always remember it should be on your terms. These tips can help you prepare and guide you through your conversations.

  • Choose a comfortable location – When opening up to family or friends about your mental health, find somewhere you are comfortable with. At the family table right before dinner may not be in your comfort zone. Maybe you want to talk to everyone at once, or maybe you would feel more comfortable talking with family one on one. The main goal is to find surroundings you are comfortable with.
  • You don’t have to share everything – Before starting a conversation, decide what you want to share and what you might be comfortable with. You do NOT have to share everything with everyone. Stand your ground and only discuss what you feel comfortable with.
  • Set boundaries – When explaining your mental health with friends and family, be sure to set boundaries and let them know if you are seeking advice or simply want them to listen. Many people have preconceived and uneducated knowledge of mental illness and may enter the conversation with their own opinions. Educate them and remind them that it is YOU that are living with this illness and are simply looking for their support and understanding.
  • Let them know how they can help – We all have different needs and knowing exactly what you need from someone will help when talking to them. Let them know if you need their help. Be prepared. Not everyone is able to handle and deal with full disclosure of medical conditions and may find giving the help you desire difficult, while others will be happy to help in any way you would like. 
  • Provide information on your condition – When explaining your illness to family and friends, it is often helpful to provide them with educational information. Ask your therapist if they have any informational pamphlets that you could have to share with family and friends that might help them better understand what you are living with.

How to Accept Support When You Live with Mental Health Issues

After you have your discussion, you should be willing and able to accept the outpouring of love and support your family wants to offer. Some may make specific gestures and promises, while others may give you a general “I’m here” statement. Whatever the case may be, understand that they recognize how much it took for you to speak with them and how strong you are for sharing your struggle.

Through the process, keep the following thought at the forefront of your mind: Your family loves you. You no longer have to remain silent about what is going on. You can ask for help if and when you need it. The world may not seem so lonely now that you have let your closest confidantes in on your state. Erasing the stigma of depression and anxiety begins with learning how to talk about mental health with others. Starting with those who will always remain on your side is the first step in eradicating the doubt mental conditions plant in your head.

If you would like more information or pamphlets to share with family and friends, contact us at Highland Springs Specialty Clinic in Utah and Idaho today and we will be happy to help.


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