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Speak Up: How to Talk to Your Family About Mental Health

Speak Up: How to Talk to Your Family About Mental Health

by Nia Spencer

man writing in a notebook

Talking to your family about something personal is never easy, especially with touchy topics like mental health and sexuality. There is so much stigma around these subjects that often we hold things in—which usually causes more harm than good.

One strategy is to write it out. When we can’t find the words to verbally convey how we feel, written words come to the rescue. It doesn’t have to be a college-worthy thesis to get the point across. Simply detailing how you feel from day to day or how you feel during certain situations is enough. You can decide later if you want to show it to anyone.

I wrote my mother a letter; in it I told her that I was having trouble controlling my mood swings. I even apologized for acting out because I was ashamed. In the letter, I told her that I was uncomfortable talking about it face to face, and that I would prefer for her to write me back. I did this for the majority of my childhood, and even now I send my mother emails or text messages about how I’m doing.

Maybe writing doesn’t work for you, and that’s okay—it doesn’t work for my brother (I’m personally going to blame it on his horrid handwriting). Instead, he pulled my mother to the side and had a private conversation with her about his depression and his ADHD. He could’ve gone to anyone in our family, but he was more comfortable talking one on one with my mother. There was trust already established between them on personal matters, so it was easy for him to do this. Find which family member you are the closest with and feel the most comfortable talking to, and try to explain to them how you’ve been feeling. It could even be a close family friend. Try telling them to hold their comments until you are done—it makes it easier to get it all out without any interruptions.

2 women talking on a bench

The most important thing to remember when talking to your loved ones is that this is going to strengthen your relationships with them, and give them a look into your world. This newfound clarity will give them better ways to support you. Honestly, that’s exactly what we need: a strong, understanding support group to help us battle our illnesses. In my case, it also opened a discussion on our family history and how my brother and I are not any different from the rest of our family. All of this bettered our quality of life at home and in public. In speaking up, we gained confidence. Take the leap and speak up—you’ll find it to be worth the anxiety you feel now. Most importantly, be honest with them and yourself; they love you and they will try to understand.

And if you are in a position where you truly cannot speak up to anyone in your life? Well, that’s what professionals are for. Find a therapist you like—and, crucially, someone you would feel okay being honest with! Maybe that’s the first step toward including some other people in the conversation.

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