How to tell people you love that you are struggling

10 November 2020

One of the biggest challenges you may face is how to bring up the subject of your mental health with those closest to you. The truth is, whether you have a long-term mental health condition or are feeling a bit run down – you need to reach out for support.

Is it not uncommon to be deterred by the fact that people might not understand or may even judge you. Unfortunately, the stigma of mental health still exists. However, whatever it is you are going through, you are not alone.

You may be surprised, when you do open up, by how many people come out of the woodwork to say “me too”. Sometimes we just have to be the first to speak out.

Some guidelines for talking to your loved ones about your mental health:

  1. Stay calm. This will allow you to acknowledge your emotions and think clearly.
  2. If you are not calm, stop/pause and take “time out”.
  3. Time out. This will help you to achieve calm. It can be anything you find soothing: a cup of tea, deep breathing exercises, going for a walk, or playing with a pet.
  4. Use “I”. This shows that you take responsibility for your feelings, concerns, and needs.
  5. Avoid judgement, or blaming others for your feelings.
  6. Show consideration. Consider that what your loved one is hearing may be difficult for them to – you could say something like “I understand this may make you worry”, or “I understand you may not have known”.
  7. Find a solution. Ask your loved one if they have a suggestion, or share with them what you would like to do to feel different.

Depending on how much you want to share, you could consider talking about some of the following:

  • How long you have been feeling like this;
  • What you have been feeling;
  • Triggers you may experience;
  • Any medication you are recommended by a doctor and any reactions you have (what time you need to take them, if they make you sleepy or hungry or take a while to “kick in”);
  • Things you may need to do to calm down (e.g.: if you find breathing exercises help you). Sharing this with your loved one can help them to help you when you feel overwhelmed;
  • Your challenges and victories in your mental health journey.

By sharing your struggles, you can find support. From there, you will not need to deal with “bad days” alone; you will have someone who is aware of what you are going through and that you can talk to. If what you are facing is bigger than you or your loved one can manage, seeking professional help also provides support and can help you with skills and a way forward.

These are also useful tips to remember if someone you know opens up to you about what they are going through.

Written by:

Monique Prior, Occupational Therapist, Akeso Randburg – Crescent Clinic