How To Talk To Your Family About Your Mental Health
Have you ever tried to talk to your family about your mental health and it didn’t go so well? 😧
Perhaps you have felt unsure about how to go about discussing your mental health symptoms or you haven’t had a good response in the past.
This is unfortunately too common. It’s something I hear from many of my patients in Eunoia Medical.
More often than not, they will be met with judgment and shame or be dismissed all together.
However, many of my clients have shared how when someone responds positively to their sharing their experience, that it can really help them feel much better about their situation.
It can be so hard to know who is safe to share with, how to start the conversation and what to do when it doesn’t go well.
So today I want to provide you with some tips for how to talk to your family about your mental health.
The strategies I provide here may not apply to everyone and I encourage you to take what is helpful and leave behind what is not. In a topic as diverse as this, I could never propose a one-size-fits-all solution, but rather hope that I can provide a framework and some tips when it comes to preparing for these important conversations.
If you’d rather listen than read, you can also listen to the podcast episode for this blog on Mind Over Motherhood. Listen through Apple Podcasts (or wherever you stream podcasts!)
Figure Out Why You’re Telling Them First
First of all, it’s important to do a self-check and ask why you are planning to talk to your family member(s) or friend(s) about your mental health in the first place.
There are a few reasons why we often feel like we need to explain our symptoms or discuss our mental health with others. These are not all of the reasons, but I think this outlines some of the common ones:
1. Feeling like you need to explain why you behaved a certain way or to justify/defend yourself for something
2. Reaching out for support, validation, reassurance or simply to be heard
3. Wanting to connect with someone or deepen a relationship, to help them be aware of your experience to improve a relationship
4. Attempting to change how someone behaves around us given the information we share with them
There may be many other reasons why you feel like you need to share details about your mental health with your loved ones, and the reasons above may not apply to you.
The important thing is to ask yourself WHY you’re wanting to tell them because this helps you be aware of your expectations in the conversation.
Once you’re aware of your expectations, it’s important to consider whether the person you’re sharing the information with has the chance or is capable of meeting your expectations.
For example, if you’re reaching out for support and validation, but you anticipate your family member may dismiss your concerns or one-up you with their “stuff,” then perhaps they are not the right person to share with.
Being aware of your own motivations in sharing details about your mental health journey and then checking your own expectations is important.
When we come to a situation with an expectation, there is a risk that expectation may not be met. So it’s important to be mindful of why you’re sharing, to whom you’re sharing and what your ultimate goals are from the disclosure.
Remember You Can Only Control Yourself
As in all interpersonal relationships, it is vital to remember that we can only control our own behaviour.
If the motivation behind telling someone about your mental health struggles is to try to change them or their behaviour, it is unlikely to be effective.
In fact, at times it may be emotionally manipulative or even passive aggressive to try to coerce someone to change their behaviour due to information about your mental health.
That being said, there are situations when it might be helpful for someone to be aware of the mental health symptoms you’re experiencing so that they can be more aware or conscientious about how they act, but we cannot expect people to change their behaviour simply because we want them to.
When you’re telling someone sensitive details about your mental health, you are only responsible for your own behaviour. Trying to control or change another’s behaviour will be futile and likely make you feel worse.
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Pick Your People Wisely
When it comes to talking to your family (or friends) about your mental health, it is important to realize two things:
1. Not everyone needs to know about your mental health struggles.
2. Not everyone will be able to respond to you in the way that you need them to.
One of the most important steps to learning how to talk to your family about your mental health is to be very discerning about who you share what with.
Let’s break these two things down now.
#1. Not Everyone Needs To Know
Some women have the impression that they simply “should” be able to tell their friends and family members how they’re feeling at any time.
They often also think that those people “should know” how to handle the information kindly and give them the support they need.
I’m sorry to break it to you: this is not true.
Not everyone wants to know about your mental health struggles. In fact, sometimes others may be struggling with their own symptoms, and your sharing could be a trigger for them. They could be carrying much more than you realize, and perhaps don’t have the capacity to take on your information as well.
For some people, knowing about someone else’s struggles can be enough to tip their own mental health scales and worsen their own symptoms.
So first of all, let’s be mindful and ensure that whomever you are sharing your information with is emotionally able and willing to recieve that information from you.
#2. Not Everyone Knows How To Respond “Correctly”
You are 100% worthy of having someone who will listen to you in a compassionate, sensitive and validating way when it comes to sharing your mental health struggles.
Having a safe and non-judgmental place to vent and release all of your concerns, feel seen and learn how to heal is absolutely required in my opinion. (I mean, that’s why I started a whole clinic to provide it. Let’s be real.)
However, while you absolutely deserve having someone respond to your mental health experience with compassion and kindness, not every single person in your life knows how to do that or has the capacity to do it.
This is especially true with the women in our lives. Many times, clients will be frustrated with their mothers, sisters, etc. They will “just wish she would be different” when they disclose sensitive information or share details about their mental health.
The fact of the matter is: some people do not know and will not ever learn how to respond well.
I often break this situation down with the metaphor of a well. Stay with me here.
Imagine there was a well…
Take a moment and imagine there was a well on your property.
You, needing water, approach the well and put the bucket down and draw it back up. No water.
Hmm, you think. That’s a bit frustrating.
The next day, you are very thirsty and need some water. You approach the same well.
You put the bucket down and draw it back up. No water.
Now not only are you still thirsty, but you’re also angry that the well will not give you water when you clearly need water.
The following day, you need water again. So, you go back to the well again. Again, no water.
Now you’re really angry. You are really thirsty and this well just won’t give you water.
The well is supposed to be able to give you water.
The well SHOULD know how to give you water.
The well SHOULD know that you need water and how to give it and why isn’t it doing what you want?
Now what I want to ask you: Who’s responsibility is that you’re angry?
Who’s responsibility is it that you are repeatedly disappointed by the well?
You or the well? 🤨
This is the same thing that happens when we think that a particular person in our life SHOULD know what we need and SHOULD know how to give it to us.
Whether it’s the right response, the right kind of support, the feedback we need, the validation, etc, we sometimes get really frustrated because in our heads, this person SHOULD know how to do this.
(PS. The person is usually a parent or sibling in this scenario.)
The truth is – if we continue to go back to the same person expecting them to give us the emotional support or feedback we need, when we KNOW they have not been able to in the past, we cannot blame them.
We cannot blame the well if it doesn’t give us water. It has never given us water.
Instead, we need to take responsibility for our own needs and perhaps find a new well.
This may look like finding a therapist, finding another source of support from friends or another family member.
If we constantly expect someone to give us the right support when we damn well know they can’t or won’t, then we need to stop going to them for it.
It’s a harsh truth but someone has to tell it. You are responsible for finding safe and supportive places for your mental health talks. You can’t expect people to be what they are not.
(Well, you could, but you’d still be here reading this wondering what you’re doing wrong.)
How to Know How Much To Share
How much you share with someone (once you have determined they are a safe space) is really an individual decision.
Truthfully, if someone is safe to share your mental health struggles with, you will know. It’s not these people who you are reading this blog post for.
It’s the other ones.
It’s the ones who you fear will judge you, shame you or one-up you.
So when it comes time to decide how much to share, I will ask you to reflect (again) on what your goals are in telling your family/friend about your mental illness.
Are you explaining your mental health symptoms because someone genuinely asked how you’re doing?
Or are you telling someone what you’re going through to defend yourself or explain your behaviour?
It’s important to share only what you feel comfortable disclosing.
Keep in mind that simply telling someone about your mental illness or symptoms does not give them license to all of the details of every single therapy session or medication change.
If someone has not handled your sensitive information well in the past, it’s vital that you are cautious about how much you share to avoid having negative outcomes in the future.
How To Talk To Your Family About Your Mental Health: It Ultimately Comes Down To You
When it comes to talking to your family or friends about your mental health, it ultimately comes down to you and your unique situation.
Only you can determine who is safe to share your information with.
You are the only one who can choose who knows how much about your life.
And you are also responsible for WHO you tell and whether you return to that person for support in the future.
How you talk to your family about your mental health may impact how you feel about yourself and your symptoms, so choose wisely. There is still a diverse range of knowledge, understanding and open-mindedness when it comes to mental illness and a ton of stigma still exists.
Having these tough conversations is how we normalize mental illness, connect with each other and break down barriers. That being said, it will not do you any good at all if you are sacrificing your own mental health to try to “educate others.”
Be smart and choose your people wisely. If you are looking for a safe community for connection, support and empowerment (with women all on the same journey as you), you should check out The Eunoia Collective.
The Eunoia Collective is my monthly mental health membership for women. It is a sacred and safe community of women who are looking to learn about their mental health, gather tools to help them thrive and a supportive community to empower them. Learn more and become a member today!
If you are looking for more tips on how to manage anxiety and live your life in spite of it, you should order my book: You Are Not Your Anxiety: How To Stop Being An Anxious People-Pleasing Mess today!
This book is my honest no-bullshit approach to anxiety management – it’s all of the experience and knowledge I have learned from working with hundreds of women and managing my own anxiety – compiled into one handbook for women who are ready to finally get a handle on their minds. Get yours today!
THIS EPISODE DIGS INTO:
How To Talk To Your Family About Your Mental Health
- What to consider when you want to talk about your mental health with family
- How to choose who is safe to disclose to and share with
- What to do if a family member is not supportive
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AUTHOR: DR. CARLY CREWE, MD
Dr. Carly Crewe is a mom to twin toddlers, a modern day nomad and MD Psychotherapist specializing in women's mental health.
Carly believes that when women are well, they have the power to heal and change the world.
Her mission is to revolutionize the women’s mental health care, from fragmented and haphazard to a holistic, comprehensive and integrated approach that meets every woman where she is and addresses the multidimensional reality of mental health.
Dr. Crewe is the founder of Eunoia Medical, a speciality mental health clinic for women in pursuit of a well mind. Carly runs a revolutionary mental health membership for women, The Eunoia Collective.
Carly is the host of the Mind Over Motherhood Podcast and is an Amazon best-selling author. Her newest book You Are Not Your Anxiety: How to Stop Being An Anxious, People-Pleasing Mess will be launching for presale on International Women’s Day March 8th, 2021.