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Explaining Your Mental Health Condition to Others

Explaining Your Mental Health Condition to Others

As much as mental health is featured in the media, and as much as we’re learning, as a culture, that mental health disorders are real and can be treated, many people still misunderstand or ignore mental health symptoms. Others may deny them altogether, believing that people just need to “buck up” or “grin and bear it.” They insist that it’s all a matter of willpower–that the strong will “get over it,” and move on. 

Suppose your home or work environment includes people who have this attitude toward mental health. In that case, it can be really hard to help them understand that things like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorders are diagnosable conditions that require professional intervention.  

Explaining Your Mental Health Condition to Others

So should you bother trying? That depends. Let’s look at some steps to consider taking as you decide whether and how to have the conversation. 

Step 1: Set a Goal

Before having the conversation, ask yourself what you hope the outcome will be. What is your goal in sharing your story with a particular person? Your goals could be one or more of the following:

  • To ask for help or support
  • To explain your behavior
  • To repair a relationship
  • To seek more respect and understanding
  • To ask for accommodation
  • To advocate for your legal rights

When you clarify your intention (which will be based on your audience), you will have a better idea of how to structure the conversation–what information is necessary and what can be kept private. You can plan for what you will do if the conversation does not go as you had hoped. 

For example, if your goal is to ask your boss for a work accommodation, you will probably keep the conversation very practical and focused on what you need to do your job to the best of your ability. You can highlight how a specific accommodation will enhance your performance and thus benefit the company. You probably don’t need to go into much personal detail beyond the basics (e.g., difficulty concentrating, low energy, sensitivity to noise/distraction, etc.). 

If, on the other hand, your goal is to get your grandmother to be more patient and understanding of your mental health condition, you will likely approach the conversation in a completely different way. 

Step 2: Prepare

For any potentially difficult and vulnerable conversation, take as much control of it as you can. Decide what method of communication you prefer and where and when you want to have the conversation. 

Then, practice and/or write down what you want to say. Here are some things to include:

  • What your diagnosis is and how long you’ve known about it
  • The symptoms of the condition and how they affect your feelings, thoughts, and behavior
  • What it feels like to tell this person about your condition
  • Why you want them to know about it
  • What kind of treatment you’re getting and how it helps
  • How they can support you, if they choose to do so
  • Where they can learn more about the condition, if they choose to do so

If you have not yet been diagnosed but feel like you need to seek help, Mental Health America has a helpful template to use when explaining to a loved one what’s going on and why you need help. 

Step 3: Talk! 

Even planned conversations rarely go as planned, but remember your goal and remind yourself that no matter what happens, you’re doing something good for yourself. You’re asking for the understanding and support you deserve. If the person chooses to not cooperate, try not to take it personally. Rather than letting a confrontation escalate, end the conversation and offer to return to it after you’ve had time to think. 

In the meantime, reach out to someone who you know will offer you love and support. You may also want to talk with a therapist to get insight on how to proceed. 

A Caveat:

If someone in your life constantly belittles or mocks you for the mental health symptoms you have, consider whether having a conversation with them is worth your energy and time. Maybe you really want your grandmother to stop making mean comments about your moods or your needs. You desperately want her to understand that this condition is real, with real symptoms, and that it is not your fault. You want her to know that you’re doing what you can to help yourself but that you want her compassion and patience as well.  

You can certainly try to have a conversation with someone like this. Lay out your situation as discussed above, and then give the person examples of things they say or do that are hurtful. If possible, have someone with you who already understands your condition and can advocate for you. 

But if the hurtful behavior continues, be direct with them: “I love you but it’s hard for me to be around you when you make comments like that” or “I know that we usually spend Thanksgiving together, but I’m going to do something else this year. I want to be around people who respect and support me.” 

We Support You at Miramont Behavioral Health

If you need someone to talk with about your condition or if you’re struggling with intense feelings and behaviors and don’t know where to turn, Miramont can help. We work with adolescents and adults who suffer from mental/behavioral health conditions. We will listen to you and collaborate with you to form a treatment plan that fits your specific needs. Contact our facility in Middleton, WI, to learn more. 

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