Talking about intimate experiences, of any type, is tough. You’re being vulnerable, unsure of your audience’s reaction, worried about oversharing or making your audience uncomfortable. But to end the stigma surrounding mental health, those with mental health issues are being encouraged to be more honest and brave, and open up about their mental health needs.
This kind of transparency can help remove the taboos and stigma associated with mental health and make society more comfortable talking about it. After all, when it comes to physical wellness, we understand that health is a broad spectrum. Some people wear glasses. Some have bad knees. Why not be as open about our mental health and the conditions associated with that? Why feel ashamed?
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The First Step to Being Brave
According to Rachel O’Neill, an Ohio-licensed professional clinical counselor and Talkspace provider, the first step to being brave is acknowledging that it’s OK to feel how you feel.
“It’s okay to cry if you’re feeling sad,” she said. “It’s okay to feel anxious. Own your emotions and your experiences. Don’t apologize for what you’re feeling. Instead of focusing on trying to change your feelings or thoughts, focus on practicing acceptance around them.”
Opening up and being brave isn’t easy, simply living with a mental illness alone can be a daily struggle. But, being brave can be energizing. It prompts those listening to take action, and their commitment can be contagious, creating a snowball effect. Your bravery, while a large emotional commitment from you, can create a network of advocates for mental health awareness.
“Life is hard sometimes and the bravest thing you can do is to keep fighting for another day,” O’Neill said. “But the more we talk about how mental health issues impact lives, the more we can reduce the stigma that sometimes surrounds things like depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.”
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re trying to speak out and be more courageous about your mental health.
You Can Change the Conversation
Opening up about your mental health can have a number of benefits, including inspiring others in your life who may also be dealing with a mental illness to speak about it or seek out help. What’s most important to think about before you share your experiences is who you want to tell and how much information share. From there, you have choices, including the following.
Write it out
Sitting someone down to share something as personal as mental health issues you’ve faced can be daunting. So, it might be better to write down your thoughts and plan the message you want to share. You don’t necessarily have to read what you wrote out loud to someone or post it publically anywhere, but it will help you make sure you’re conveying your thoughts clearly and sharing only what you want. Even if it doesn’t lead to a broader conversation, putting your thoughts in writing can help you process your own thoughts, too.
The best way for someone to understand what you’re going through is to share specifics. If you’re open to it, be graphic – how did that panic attack in public make you feel? What’s it like to be living with a condition that makes it hard to get out of bed for long stretches, but that nobody knows about? Sharing these stories will help someone who has never experienced the associated emotions better understand and get a sense of how they can help you.
Ask for help
Opening up about your mental health is difficult, but now that you have, you don’t have to continue on this journey alone. If you want to keep sharing your message, ask the person you’re speaking to to be part of that narrative. Ask them to be your advocate and be there as you tell others. Having someone as your ally during difficult conversations can help you feel less alone. Even though the person you’re speaking to might not be a medical professional, he or she is there to support you — you’ve trusted them with your most raw emotions, after all.
Being Brave Doesn’t Have to Mean Going Public
You don’t have to share with friends and family, write a blog post, or bare your soul on social media to change your mental health journey — you simply have to take the steps to get help. Taking control of your mental health — whether through virtual screening tools, hotlines, seeing a physician, talking to an online therapist, or joining a support group — even privately, is a courageous, bold step. What’s important is to initiate a change and defend your and others’ mental health, however you’re most comfortable doing so.