It’s an illness. It’s an illness. I kept repeating that over and over to remind myself that what my boyfriend had was real. He was in a real psychiatric hospital suffering from a real mental health diagnosis. It wasn’t just something “in his head.” Yet, I didn’t know how to talk about it with others. When he is in the hospital, what do I tell people when they invite us out to dinner? What do I tell my parents when they ask a casual question like, “How is Tom doing?”
You shouldn’t have to feel ashamed or embarrassed to talk to others about your loved one. You also shouldn’t feel that you need to share everything. And most importantly, you should have a conversation with your loved one to discuss how much they are OK with you sharing.
When sharing, here a few tips to keep in mind:
- Be straightforward. Your loved one is sick. Talk about the mental health diagnosis like you would any other illness, including treatment and progress.
- Be comfortable. Share only what you and your loved one want others to know – if you’re not comfortable sharing details, don’t.
- Be strong. We are still fighting the stigma surrounding mental health, and unfortunately, that may mean you get weird looks when you tell people. Don’t stop talking; the more we talk about it, the closer we get to overcoming stigma!
- Be empathetic. You may find that once you start talking about your loved one’s mental health issues, others will start opening up about their loved one’s experiences. Listen. It may be hard because you are focused on your own situation, but you may find it comforting to share stories and hear what others are struggling with.
- Be kind to yourself. It’s not an easy conversation to have, and it probably won’t go perfectly. Don’t beat yourself up. There will be another conversation.
The more you share, the easier it will get. The more you share, the more you will learn. And, the more you share, the more people will understand mental health. It’s hard, but you are stronger than you think.
Do you have experience with talking on behalf of a loved one? Please share it in the comments below.
Laurie Greene is the Marketing Project Manager for Sheppard Pratt Health System. She is a graduate of Susquehanna University and University of Baltimore. Laurie resides in Towson with her husband and daughter.