Talking to Others About Your Mental Illness
Thursday, January 20 2011 Natasha Tracy
This week one of my Twitter followers asked me for advice on communicating with her friends and family about her mental illness. She has only recently started telling people of her illness and she wasn’t sure on how to express her needs around her mental illness.
This is a great question and one I think every person with a mental illness faces. How do you tell people about your mental illness needs?
Coming Out As Mentally Ill
In this person’s case she had already told some of her close friends and family about her mental illness, but if you are just starting to tell people, or are in the process, here are some things to consider:
- Start with the most supportive person in your life. The one who you think will most love and accept you no matter what. This person can help you through telling everyone else.
- Slowly tell one person at a time. This information is big for you and it’s big for them. Take it slowly.
- Understand that people are going to have their own feelings around your diagnosis. They might be angry, sad, upset or feel nothing at all. Be prepared for their reactions.
- Understand that not everyone is going to support you. Sorry, but they just won’t.
- Put a “safety plan” place so that if people don’t react as expected you have someone to turn to about it, like a friend or therapist.
Mental Illness Needs
As a mentally ill person I need all sorts of things. I need help. I need doctors. I need medication. I need love. I need support. And depending on the specifics of my mood, I may need other things as well.
But coming up with a specific list of needs from other people isn’t as easy as it sounds. Do you know what you need? Are you OK with having that need? Are you OK with asking for help?
In my case I despise admitting to having bipolar-related needs because I consider myself self-reliant and don’t like to depend on anyone.
But that’s kind of selfish of me.
Expressing what you need from a person can actually help them come to terms with your mental illness because it makes them feel like they can do something specific to help and support you. People who love you will want to do that.
Mental Illness Needs Checklist
Double-check your needs before communicating them to others. Try considering this:
- Is what I’m asking reasonable?
- Is asking this person reasonable?
- Can more than one person share this job?
- Does this ask have a time limit?
- Is there background information the person needs in order to understand what I’m asking?
Expressing Mental Health Needs
It is OK to express your needs. It’s brave. It means you’ve recognized you have an illness and you’re working to keep your life going. This is a positive sign. But remember, just because it’s good that doesn’t mean everyone will like it.
Much like telling people you are mentally ill, when you start talking about needs; start with the most supportive person you know. Start with the person who has already asked how they can help you. Start with the easiest person to talk to.
When expressing your needs to others consider:
- Can this person give me what I’m asking?
- Is this the best time to ask the person?
- Does this person have enough information to know why I’m asking?
- Is there a website/book/other that would help this person understand what I’m going through?
- Should I write down my need and reason ahead of time in case I get nervous in the moment?
- Do I need support in asking for this need? Should someone be with me when I ask?
- How will I handle it if this person says no?
Asking for Help for a Mental Illness is Hard
Telling someone what you need can be a tough thing. Some people find it much easier to print something off the computer that expresses what they’re trying to say. You might get really upset in the moment. The other person might get upset in the moment. That’s OK. If you have something on paper, the benefit is the other person can take it and read it on their own time, when they’re ready.
As much as adjusting to a mental illness is a process for you, it’s also a process for the people around you. Hopefully people will help, support, love you and meet your needs, but remember, that just might not happen immediately.