It’s unfortunate that mental health is still a taboo topic for many people, especially older generations. Many people spend their lives being taught that only weak people struggle with their mental health. This mindset, in turn, is taught to their children, which continues the cycle. It is time to break that cycle. To do so, we need to speak about things that make us uncomfortable: mental health.
Speaking to your family may be one of the most challenging things you could do in your life for any reason. We are taught to respect and listen to our elders, and to go against them causes no small amount of emotional distress. Some family members may be stubborn and refuse to listen to or believe you when you speak about your mental health. Here are some tips to keep in mind when bringing up mental health topics around your family. Remember, these tips are for adults speaking with other adults, not children.
Educate Yourself About Mental Health So You Can Teach Others
Teachers will often say that one of the best ways to learn is to teach someone else about the subject you are learning. In this instance, you can bring up topics of discussion around mental health and inform those around you about any relevant discoveries. For example, if you notice that depression is prevalent in your family, bring up the latest in successful treatment programs and how it helps people.
Do your best to correct others in problematic terminology or stereotypes. It’s best to do this gently; adults often become set in their ways and may become angry at their knowledge being challenged. Don’t be rude or condescending, but come from a place of compassion and kindness. Be hopeful as well, to remind those struggling that things can get better should they want it.
It will be challenging, as many people will refuse to learn past the outdated information they were taught. Make it known that this is a topic important to you and it matters for your health. Eventually, some may come around, but be prepared to work at it.
Be Supportive and Compassionate
Many times people don’t speak about mental health issues because they feel shame or embarrassment. It’s hard for people to admit when they have a problem, let alone actively ask for help. If you can do so safely, be sure to remind your family that they are loved and worthy of happiness.
Lead by example by making it a point to listen to loved ones when they have a problem and offer non-judgmental advice. Remember, only do this if you can do so without compromising your mental health. Listen and give advice, but serious issues must be handled by a trained professional.
In this case, encourage your loved one to seek help. Remind them that you believe seeking help is a brave thing to do and that your loved one isn’t weak. For serious issues like substance use disorder (SUD)and mental health disorders that impede someone’s ability to live comfortably, seeking therapy is the only option to become healthy. It’s possible that you may experience push-back for this, especially for those in denial, but be persistent and kind. You may end up saving their life.
Bring up Mental Health in Casual Conversation
You can ease people into being more comfortable discussing mental health by making it a part of your daily life. If you practice self-care routines, offer to teach them to those you love. Mention how some things positively or negatively impact your mental health. Ask how others are feeling. Learn not to be afraid to speak about how you feel as well.
Eventually, people around you will begin to be more at ease with this topic and may open up to you. Again, never judge, but acknowledge and validate how the other feels. Doing this will help normalize mental health discussions, which is important in changing harmful behaviors.
Be Prepared to Make Your Own Family
Sometimes families are too stuck in their ways to make any meaningful change. They can become toxic and harmful to not only themselves but to you as well. If you are part of a family that refuses to take your mental health seriously, denies treatment for your mental health disorder, or actively harms you, you must leave.
Leaving behind a family may be the hardest thing you may ever have to do. However, you must if it’s too dangerous. Some people choose to go low contact and rarely speak with their families, keeping their health information private. Others may choose to cut their families out entirely and make a new supportive family of their choosing.
Remember that you tried your best; you can’t fix everyone or force them to change. Change has to come from within. If your family refuses to change, then there is nothing you can do but make sure you are safe and healthy. Sometimes it takes someone leaving to show someone how serious they are. Others may take it to be an insult or a slight against them.
Your priority is staying safe. If you need help navigating a toxic family, speak with a mental health professional. They will help you make a safe exit plan and provide the support you need to do so.
Families don’t have to be related by blood. They can be people that you love and care about and who do the same for you. Remember that a true family cares about your mental health and will always love you. You deserve love and care; don’t be afraid to find those that believe the same.
Speaking to your family about mental health can feel scary and intimidating. It’s especially hard when families have members of an older generation who believe in toxic standards. You can do your best to help them, but change has to come from within. Sometimes you may even need information on how to make your own family. At Acera Health in Costa Mesa, California, we strive to help those that ask for it. You may not be able to make someone get help, but you can learn how to be a supportive advocate for those that need it. If you or a loved one is struggling with a mental health disorder, call (949) 647-4090 for more information.