You’ve heard of people opening up about their mental illness by sharing it with hundreds of people on social media. But doing so isn’t the norm. If you’re like most people with mental illness, you worry about sharing your illness with your best friend or your supervisor at work.
Preparing for the conversation ahead of time can make it easier to talk about your mental illness with the people you care about. Here are a few tips that may help.
1. Decide Who to Tell
It’s not necessary for everyone in your life to know about your mental illness. Who you tell depends on you. Some people prefer to be completely open about their mental illness by telling as many people as possible. Other people prefer to tell something so sensitive only to their close friends and family members.
When deciding who to tell, you should also consider the roles and personalities of different people in your life. For example, it’s a good idea to tell your supervisor at work so he or she can accommodate you taking time off when needed. When considering which of your friends and family members to tell, tell those who have been consistently supportive throughout your life.
2. Come With Information
When you talk to someone about your mental illness, it’s likely that they’ll have many questions. So you’re not caught off guard, think about the answers to some of these questions in advance:
- How long have you known about your mental illness?
- How does the illness affect you day to day?
- What kind of treatment are you receiving?
- How does the illness affect your relationships with others?
Because there are a lot of misconceptions about mental illness, there’s a chance your friend may react negatively. For example, they may think the illness isn’t that serious and you can just “get over it.”
If you fear this kind of reaction, bring along a brochure or handout with more information about your mental illness. Ask a doctor or counselor if they have a handout you could give your friend.
3. Make a List of How They Can Help You
One common question your friend may ask is how they can help you. Write down a few ideas of what you may need. For example, if the person is your work supervisor, you may ask for their patience and understanding if you occasionally miss work or come in late. If the person is a close friend, you could tell them that you’d appreciate an occasional phone call to check in.
You could also let your friend know what you don’t need. For example, you might not need someone to tell you what to do or to try to solve the problem. You just need someone to support you and tell you they care about you.
4. Get Help from a Counselor
Talking about your mental illness can be terrifying, even if it’s with a close friend. It can be helpful to practice the conversation ahead of time with your counselor if you have one. He or she may have some additional tips and strategies for how to talk to your friend.
5. Choose the Right Time and Place
Finally, make sure you have the right setting for the conversation. One option is to wait for your friend or family member to make the opening. For example, he or she may mention that they’re worried about you and wonder if everything is okay. That can create a good opening for the conversation.
If you initiate the conversation yourself, make sure your friend knows this is serious and not something to joke about. You could say something like, “There’s something I want to tell you. Can we meet for ice cream on Tuesday to talk about it?”
Following these tips can make talking about your mental illness a bit less terrifying.
For additional help, turn to The Life Adjustment Team. Our counselors can even meet with your family to assist with communication and problem-solving.