Revealing our innermost selves to another person is not something humans are particularly bred for. We have evolutionary cues boiled into our brains that tell us not to show weakness. Coupled with long standing societal stigma that pressures us to “keep it together” or “pull yourself up by your bootstraps' ', we can be left feeling we’re better off keeping our struggles inside, and working through them independently.
In a perfect world, the people around you will understand your struggles, provide you with support, and offer encouragement. On the flip side, not everyone understands mental health concerns or the proper way to offer support. For this reason, it’s important to think about the pros and cons of what to disclose, who to disclose to, and what you're seeking through these conversations. Being prepared for how to disclose when the time is right will help you seek out the most appropriate person to get support from.
Who do you tell? Use your intuition to seek out people in your life you feel are emotionally-skilled enough to hold the space you are looking for. You may have family members or friends who love you very much, but lack the capacity to give you the understanding you’re looking for. Identify people in your life who can be genuinely comfortable with this discussion and provide you with necessary support.
Examples of people you can talk to include:
- Family members
- Trusted friends
- Mental Health Professionals
- Healthcare Workers
- Coworkers (consider the implications of disclosure in the workplace before taking this step)
- Acquaintances (you may know someone outside your circle who you feel can be trusted and provide an unbiased context)
Be prepared to answer questions about your mental struggles, and provide a broader context. While disclosing can offer immediate stress relief, it can also set you up to have an ally who can recognize warning signs, check in on you, and hold space in the future.
When it comes to the conversation itself, take some reflection time to understand what you’re looking for in the conversation. Maybe you need advice on a specific situation. Alternatively, you may just be looking for someone to see you and provide validation for your experience. Be specific in what you’re looking for from the other person with the person. This will minimize confusion and allow you to get your needs met.
A few key things to consider going into the conversation:
- Understanding what you’re asking for: Do you need to process (i.e. talk about talking) a situation or struggle? Do you need guidance on your next step? Do you need someone to tell you your experience is real? Explain this to the person you’re seeking support from.
- You get to decide what you share: Don’t feel pressured to disclose more than you're comfortable with, and understand your right to say ‘no’ if you’re being pushed to share more than you’re comfortable with.
- Be prepared to ‘psychoeducate’ the person you're speaking with: Allow space for questions, education and understanding. Additionally, be prepared to share resources that may help them understand better.
The benefits of talking to others are far and wide. A sense of universality, or the feeling that you aren’t the only one experiencing tough emotions, can help dy-mystify the experience of mental health symptoms. It’s a tremendous stress relief to talk to others, and allows your thoughts to get some air. Use your words to guide you to a better foundation of trust, understanding and relief. And remember, you’re not alone,
As always, rooting for you.
Alexa Cordry, LSW, LCADC
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