Despite the fact that nearly 1 in 5 people will suffer from a mental illness this year, 75% of them don’t feel that people are understanding and compassionate about their illness.
We’re better than this.
Often, we refer to the “stigma” around mental health with hushed voices and we shake our heads in disbelief. But let’s call it for what it really is: it’s shameful. In fact, it’s discriminatory. And society’s attitude towards mental health needs to change.
Because here’s what happens when mental health, and the treatment of it, doesn’t get met with compassion: Despite the fact that 89% of Americans believe that treatment (be it therapy or otherwise) can help with mental health when the stigma exists it creates a reluctance to seek help.
It can also create other problems, such as:
Family, friends, co-workers and other loved ones lacking understanding
Bullying, harassment, and even violence
Inadequate health insurance coverage for treatment
Internalized negative beliefs about yourself
… and that’s just scratching the surface.
So how do we elicit change? We talk about it openly.
Which isn’t easy. I won’t lie and say it is. In fact, I was in therapy for nearly a year before I told my partner, in the middle of an argument, that I was seeking counseling. It wasn’t for another three months after that I told my family.
“I don’t agree with therapy, but if it works for you.” That was the response I got the first time I tried to talk to my boyfriend about what I was going through. And you know what, that’s a pretty dang good one. Because at the end of the day, not everyone has to agree with it, they just have to understand.
And we kept talking about it. And we still talk about it. And it made it that much easier to approach the conversation with my parents.
Here’s what I can offer for advice for when you have the conversation.
Start by explaining the benefit.
I’ve found that when you lead with the benefit, it makes it a lot easier to have the conversation. At that point, you make it less about the anxiety you have, the depression you’re facing, or any other mental health battle you’re facing, and more about the benefits you’re seeking. The conversation is a lot easier when you’re focused on that, especially if you’ve not yet even approached the mental illness aspect of it… Or want to.
Don’t assume it has to be a long conversation.
Bringing up your treatment, your mental illness, or just the idea of it outside of you personally doesn’t have to be a long conversation. You can scratch the surface and come back later. Try, “I’ve been reading a bit about different ways to cope with anxiety that I think might help me with some of the different emotions I sometimes feel.”
Be prepared for pushback.
The reality is the reality. Not everyone understands mental health. Not everyone understands the treatment of it. Be prepared for people to disagree, be confused, or even be offended. Just know that the people that love and care about you will be willing to try to understand.
It doesn’t always have to be a conversation, but be persistent about the issue. It might be an article you read that resonates with how you feel or your own treatment. It might be a video or even just a quick text. If it’s important to you that people in your life understand what’s going on, make it important enough to bring up more than once.
Compassion breeds compassion. The more we talk about it and break the silence surrounding mental health, the more we normalize the conversation, the easier it gets for everyone.