Mental illness can be a very taboo, uncomfortable, and complicated subject to approach. For so many people, mental health issues have been something to hide away from others, things we want to try to ignore and possibly things that have caused us shame. It was not until recently that I had started working on starting conversations about my mental health complications that I realized how many people are feeling the same things that I am, and how many people out there genuinely want to help (but may not have the toolsets that make them feel capable of helping).
With that said, as someone who has lived within my mind for sometime anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions are not something you can read a handbook to understand. Over the past years, I have heard many assumptions about what people thought my behaviors, personality quirks, and habits might mean…and this was understandably frequently wrong. Not only were assumptions others were making incorrect, but I was also finding myself misdiagnosing myself based on how I was behaving.
While everyone is different, and what I am about to say may not be accurate for everyone, I want to speak to some common misconceptions that I have experienced. I hope to possibly shed some light and provide insight for those who might have a relationship with someone with mental health conditions, or for anyone who is trying to find answers on their own mental health journey.
Number one I feel like people tend to assume (as I once did) that it is always a black and white story. I have very high levels of social anxiety, but that does not mean I don’t want to be social. How this manifests can be very different for people, but I tend to reach out and start non-verbal conversations (text, direct message, etc.). With my specific anxieties, I can become incredibly exhausted when having to have verbal communications. What I have learned is that this can be interpreted as a lack of interest, a brush off or just being rude (which is incorrect 99.9% of the time in my case). Overcoming this hurdle is still one I am very much working on, but I do recommend that the big answer on both sides is communication. If you are feeling brushed off, it is always ok to ask if there is a reason that the person you are communicating with prefers to talk in less direct ways. Starting the dialog is critical, and frequently, the truth will set you free in these cases. When assumptions are made in these situations, it can cause adverse effects with all parties involved. People can feel shunned that have no reason to, or people might isolate more with a fear that they can’t hold healthy interactions with others. The big picture here is communication is always a win. In today’s society, people tend to shy away from more subdermal conversations because of discomfort, but it is truly the only way to start a conversation that facilitates stronger and healthier relationships.
Number two you don’t have to try to fix people who have mental health conditions. As I was struggling to start talking to others about what I was feeling, I found that I had walked into a hallway of motivational poster conversation. “You have nothing to worry about!” “But you are great,” “Look on the bright side.”…etc. I think it is beneficial to think of mental health conditions as any other medical condition. If you run into a friend in a hospital who has a broken leg, it isn’t your job to fix their leg. However, you can support and help out in ways that your friend might need. Taking this example even further you do not have to avoid mentioning the leg at all, it is a real thing that is happening, and not treating it as an invisible elephant in a room can be appreciated. Similarly to a broken leg, mental illness can be treated over time, but it is a process and not something that people will be able to “snap out of.”
Lastly, something that I believe is so important for everyone to realize is that mental health problems are not uncommon. It is easy to feel incredibly isolated if you are experiencing mental health conditions, and I am here to tell you this is NOT true. This belief comes from a long history of skirting mental health issues under the carpet, which is something we need to work hard to prevent. We are living in a world where Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, where mental health conditions affect 1-in-4 people at some point. This is a crucial time to start having conversations with yourself, people who suffer from mental health conditions, and people who don’t to begin normalizing this global issue. While that might sound like a huge hurdle to overcome, it starts with the basics. As long as we are continuing to avoid assumptions, have honest communication, and being honest with ourselves and others about mental health struggles, we are moving in the right direction.
What are some tools you have found for communicating with people about mental health? What are some obstacles you have run into when trying to start these conversations? Are there any tools that would help you feel safer when trying to communicate about your mental health conditions?
This weeks post is being featured on Mindabout a digital community meant to help women excel in areas they find hard to and diminish the inevitable loneliness experienced. Please check them out when you get a chance.
Have a great week, and I will see you all next Thursday ❤