“Mental health matters.” “It’s okay to not be okay”. These are slogans that have been belted out often enough by mental health organizations and advocates, especially through social media platforms. However, the support that is offered to us on our screens may not be reflective of the support available to us in our immediate surroundings. When we close Instagram and retreat from the digital environment that we find solace in, we are faced with the reality of the physical environment around us, one whose inhabitants we have lesser control over. If the people around us, our parents, friends, or co-workers, are not sympathetic towards our mental health struggles, what should we do? How do we seek help and support from those who don’t understand, or worse, those who invalidate our mental health concerns?
Here are three recommendations for how to have that conversation:
Describe symptoms and not their corresponding diagnoses: Chances are that those who believe that depression is over exaggerated sadness or laziness will not be very empathetic when told that somebody they know is in the midst of depression. If their association with the word “depression” is negative, the mindset they cultivate towards it will be negative as well. If they are told that a loved one is feeling disinclined to participating in activities that they once cherished, and is having a lot of trouble sleeping and eating well (common symptoms of depression), this information would naturally evoke concern. Their attention would be directed to the way in which depression is affecting the person, rather than the label of the condition itself. This would likely increase the support they are willing to lend to the person who is suffering.
Keep your eyes on the prize; focus on the desired outcome: It is safe to state that the people closest to you are well wishers of your health. They want to see you do well, thrive, and be in good spirits. Even if they may not understand what you are currently going through, they want you to feel better. Use this mutually shared goal to explain the means you want to use to achieve that health. For example, if you want to start seeking therapy or take medication, explain how the outcome of these services align with what they want for you.
Seek to understand their mindset: If you are speaking to someone unwilling to understand what mental health means and how it affects you, probe deeper into the reasoning they offer you. “What makes you feel that way? Which experiences shaped your views?” You might find that internalized stigma on mental health is the reason for their admonishment and fear of mental health conditions. Perhaps they were schooled to always put on a brave front, and to them, true bravery lies in pretense and not vulnerability. Knowing and understanding where somebody is coming from helps us feel less personally attacked by their views as we realize how they have come to be a product of their own experiences, social circles, and upbringing.
Seeking support is hard, more so if you know you will be met with disapproval and criticism. The world has already improved significantly in the sensitivity it’s shown towards mental health, and will continue to do so in the future. We salute those whose struggles aren’t being realized as they should be, and who continue to power ahead in hopes of a better future!
Author: Stuti Bagri Content Writer, Limelighting Life Collective