Understand Mental Health
Growing up, the topic of mental health was one that rarely came up. It doesn’t exactly make for light hearted conversation at the dinner table, and the stigma surrounding mental illness only served to sweep it further under the rug. Brief discussions with my peers revealed that the lack of conversation about mental health is not an uncommon phenomenon.
Unfortunately, mental illness is incredibly common. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the US experiences mental illness in a given year. Approximately 1 in 5 children aged 13-18 experiences a severely debilitating mental disorder at some point in their life. It is almost certain that someone in or close to your family is experiencing mental health challenges, which is why having the conversation about mental health is so necessary.
Prepare to Talk About It
One of the first things to ensure is that your family members can feel comfortable discussing mental health-related issues. Having the conversation in an environment without distraction and making sure everyone involved feels like they can safely express what is on their minds is essential to creating a meaningful dialogue. Let them know that their questions and concerns will be heard and encourage them to be just as open minded when listening to others. This is important not only when having a family discussion, but for all discussions about mental health.
Fear of judgment or disapproval due to the stigma surrounding mental illness is a major reason why many people do not speak out about mental illness or seek treatment, and it is incredibly important to take steps to actively combat that stigma.
It is also important to make sure that everyone is aware of and understands the facts of mental illness. Dismantle myths and stereotypes about mental health, such as the notion that people with mental illness are dangerous and violent when in reality they are more likely to be victims of crime than the general population.
Mental illness is not just something that’s “in your head” and can go away if you try hard enough. Don’t call people “crazy” or “insane” because mental illness is not an insult. Make sure your family members are able to understand mental illness and that they are able to put the person before the illness.
For parents speaking to their children, it is essential that you set a positive example for them by demonstrating compassion, understanding, and open-mindedness. Prepare to continue discussing mental health with them, especially as they grow older and may have more questions and can handle more complex information. Let them know that they can talk to you if they have any questions, concerns, or want to discuss their own mental health, but make sure they don’t feel pressured to talk to you.
It is perfectly fine for anyone to not feel ready to have a conversation about mental health, even if they are interested in opening a dialogue. For those worried about friends or family being judgmental, unreceptive, or not being able to understand, there are resources such as Paralign, a mobile app that is an anonymous journaling platform that connects you to similar minded people, where you can discuss your concerns with those who can relate in an environment free of stigma. Your children may not always feel comfortable speaking to you about mental illness, but let them know they have other resources they can turn to.
Discussion and raising awareness is the first step to combatting the stigma surrounding mental illness. By initiating a conversation, you could be letting someone know that they have a supportive family they can turn to no matter what.