How to Talk to People About Mental Illness – World Mental Health Day

World Mental Health day is October 10th every year and it’s a day spent focusing on raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and make efforts in support of mental health more available.

It’s no surprise that this blog is heavily focused on topics of mental health and sharing my own personal struggles with whoever in the world stumbles across my blog. For that reason, I felt it was important to share some insight on how to navigate talking about mental health, and mental illness in particular. Personally, I try very hard to be open and honest now that I’ve found myself on a more stable footing with my mental illness than in the past. However, it took a while for me to come to terms with my diagnoses in addition to being able to openly discuss them. And, if truth be told, I’m still working on figuring out how to navigate these conversations in all settings.

My dream is that one day we talk as openly and non-judgmentally about mental health as we do any other aspect of physical health. By focusing on breaking down the barriers within our own worlds we will break down the barriers we face in large as a community and allow more people who struggle to shed light on their issues and seek the help they deserve.

The thing is, I have met very few people in this world who haven’t struggled with some sort of mental health-related issue. Some people experience temporary anxiety during college or a new job, or during a loss or transition, some people might experience a short episode of depression. Not everything under the mental health umbrella has to be catastrophic to warrant the attention, respect, and support it deserves. Which, again, is why I think it’s so important for more of us to stand tall and share our stories. To have open and honest conversations with each other and give support and guidance to the next person who experiences a brush with mental illness.

 

In my experience, there are initially two ways to talk about mental illness. Either:

1. You don’t.

2. You do.

I utilized the first option for the majority of my experiences up until recently. If you’re not ready to talk about what you’re going through or what you are prone to, then don’t force yourself. Even though pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is highly encouraged by some, you should be in a comfortable state of mind to discuss your mental illness with whomever it is you’re talking to.

If you are wanting to get yourself ready to talk about it, I have a few suggestions for a place to start:

Begin keeping a journal of your thoughts and experiences.

This might seem old school or silly, but the act of putting pen to paper and just writing whatever comes to mind is absolutely therapeutic. Writing down your experiences that you know won’t be read by anyone else gives you the opportunity to stress less about presentation and editing and allow yourself to fully express and give words to the feelings and thoughts you’re having.

Talk to yourself about it.

Becoming more aware of what you’re feeling when you feel it is vital. Being able to check in with yourself and ask, “How am I feeling today?” can provide you with some insight that you might not have realized otherwise. For example, when I catch myself feeling exceptionally low I try to check in with myself and have a mini conversation. It goes a little something like, “Hey, Jordan, how are you feeling today?” “Well, everything around me seems very overwhelming.” I’ll then ask myself what can be controlled versus what can’t and, I think this is most important, ask myself what can I appreciate about this challenging situation. I truly believe all challenging situations come with a lesson that can be learned so pushing myself to see that lesson while I’m struggling can be very helpful.

Decide who you are comfortable talking to about it. 

A very important part of starting discussions of mental health begins with who you share your story with. For me, I have always been able to speak with my grandparents very candidly about the symptoms I experience. When my depression got to a point where I realized it may benefit me to take medications, my grandma helped walk me through the steps to make an appointment and checked in with me every step of the way. Making sure that you share your experiences with someone safe at first enables you to be liberated in your journey and maintain a sense of dignity and respect. Be aware that not everyone is going to be receptive to you talking about mental illness at first and may respond differently than you anticipate. Choosing someone who has been supportive through other challenging aspects of your life can be a very wise choice. Sometimes that might be your parents, a sibling, your best friend, or whoever is most comfortable for you.

Keep telling and updating your story.

Never stop sharing your story. There may come a day where you no longer wish to discuss the things you experience on your mental health journey, but I pray that you avoid that day as long as you can. Continue sharing your story with more people you feel comfortable with and in more settings. Continue to update your story and reframe your experiences as you are able.

 

So often I feel a little conceited when I blab on and on about my continuing personal story with mental illness. I don’t particularly enjoy putting myself in a vulnerable state either. Or sounding like that annoying person who always wants to drone on and on about the same topic.

Sorry to break it to you, but I will forever be that annoying person with mental health topics. I hope that if you are someone with a story to tell, you join me in my storytelling quest to rid the world of mental health stigma forever.

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