“Talk about it”
“You need to speak up”
It’s not easy. Stigma, judgement and fear makes talking about your mental health very difficult. Whether it’s depression, anxiety, or any other condition. Even if it’s something as basic as “I think something is not right with me’, the thought of reaching out for help can be crippling.
The wrong reaction can be devastating while the right one can be life-changing.
If you’re the one being confided in, know that these are the traps you can fall into. Use your common sense, compassion, emotional intelligence, and figure out which option can be the best.
REMEMBER- You can’t control the other person’s reactions.
All you can do is try to keep yourself aware and prepared. It might not be much, but knowing that people can have varied reactions can help you form a gameplan on how to deal with the fallout.
Because I’ve spoken about my mental health to many people over many years, I’ve had the privilege (is it really though?) of facing many reactions. MANY.
The most common reactions are –
- Awkwardness / Discomfort
Silence. Stuttering. Stammering.
This reaction is from people who don’t know what to say.
Or don’t know how to say what they want to.
Or don’t know enough about the topic.
Or they just don’t care and think you’re a whiny little shit who needs to get over it because IN MY DAY WE WALKED 100 MILES AND DIDN’T HAVE DEPRESSION!
They become awkward around you, almost like they’ve forgotten that you’re a regular human (who’s struggling a bit and would love a hug or some words of comfort).
Credit where credit’s due- some of them do care! It’s just the communication that’s hard. They don’t want to make you feel worse by saying the wrong thing. But they do care about you and what you’re going through.
- Disbelief / Astonishment / Denial
You? No way!
But you’re so happy all the time!
But you’re successful!
You’re just overthinking. Stop thinking like that!
Arrey you’re fine. Just relax.
It’s almost a form of disbelief over you even having emotions.
Which by the way is very important in an Indian context. Because in our Indian families emotions are rare and negative ones are practically non-existent. Well, they do exist but expressing them is the problem.
Because it makes people uncomfortable? Which is funny because that’s a state of being which is similar to an emotion.
Point is, this is the most common reaction I faced because everything looked fine on the surface and it’s rare for someone to look deeper. Or just easier not to.
People who react like this are either uneducated on mental health, don’t give a shit, are socially inept, or have the emotional range of a teaspoon. (Hermione FTW)
- Compassion / Sympathy / Empathy
This reaction is kind.
It’s the most helpful reaction you can receive because it makes you feel seen and heard in a non-judgemental manner.
This is the reaction that gives you the chance to reach out more, sometimes even going all the way to professional help. To get a better idea about professional help read https://theauthenticdialogue.com/10-reasons-why-therapy-is-great/
These people might not be going through the same situation but they are willing to be compassionate and that counts for a lot. They want the best for you and might even try to help you feel better.
Generally, people who react like this are educated on mental health, or are just decent people who like being good support systems and being nice.
I love these people. I try to be part of ‘these people’. You should too. It could save a life. I know that I exist today because of ‘these people’.
- Connection / Kindred spirit
This reaction is from people who either have gone through or are going through a similar situation.
You can talk about your experiences, learn about somebody else’s experiences, and feel a bit messed up together.
And that means something, right?
Knowing that you’re not the only one who feels a certain way
1. Helps you feel less lonely and stupid
2. Helps you learn what makes the other person feel better
3. Makes it easier to detach yourself from a situation, look at it from a mass objective point of view, and get the help you logically need.
But there can also be a negative side to it. You start comparing sorrows instead discussing them. Who is more depressed? Who has worse anxiety attacks? Who has better access to professional help and therefore has it easier?
Its stupid but when you have a brain that’s attacking itself stupid thoughts feel the most rational.
- Fixer / Problem solver
This is the most annoying reaction because you know that it’s coming from a good place but it’s JUST NOT WHAT YOU NEED RIGHT NOW!
When you’re opening up for the first time you just need to talk about it, vent, get it out there. Not be fixed in 5 minutes.
This is a reaction where the immediate response to you opening your mouth is to try fixing everything that’s wrong with you.
Also, this person is not a therapist. Either they’ve read 2 articles on mental health and decided that all you need to do to fix your life is walk for 10 minutes a day OR they’re speaking from experience and a bit too eager to make you feel better.
Which is nice, but once again I JUST DONT NEED THAT RIGHT NOW!
These reactions can overlap of course. And reactions can change over time. People learn more, get more experience, or just have general growth as a human being. It can make them either more compassionate or more bitter.
Point is, you might not know how the other person will react and that’s okay. Your duty, responsibility, job, wish, goal is to get your situation across. It’s to be brave and honest. It’s to be real and authentic.
Their reaction is NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY.
It might feel like shit or might feel great, but that’s an after effect to the crucial scene which is you being real about your struggle. Get some of the burden off your shoulders.
At the end of the day, the only thing you can control and work on is your mind and your actions. And an unhealthy or disturbed brain makes it harder, but that’s what professional help is for.
After so many years of talking about it I think I’ve almost become numb to the reactions. I laugh in the face of the negative ones because I learned to own up to what I was going though.
Some reactions did leave a mark and will probably always stay with me, but that’s just the price to pay when you open up. I don’t regret doing it.
I do feel awkward at times when I say I have bipolar disorder or that I was depressed, but it goes away after a point. I tell myself not to feel ashamed, that it is an illness, that I did the best I could.
It’s all a work in progress.