For a very long time, people with mental health struggles were stigmatized. Keeping quiet about mental illness was both a cause and an effect of this shame. As our society becomes more enlightened, there has been some recognition that mental health should be something we talk about and it should not be a reason to look down on anyone.
In spite of this, your story belongs to you, and you have a right to share it with only the people you choose. When deciding who to tell about your mental health journey and what to tell them, it can be helpful to reflect on why you are sharing your recovery story with them and what you hope will result.
What to Tell Your Primary Care Doctor
Though it might be uncomfortable to bring up the topic of mental health with your family doctor, making them aware of certain things can ensure that you receive the best possible care:
- All medications you are taking
- If you’re having any mental health concerns that aren’t being addressed currently
- If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts
- If there is a family history of mental illness
- Any need you might have for a referral for therapy or medication management for psychiatric meds
What to Tell Your Employer
You are not required to tell your boss anything about your mental health struggles, but choosing to do so could make it easier for you to receive accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Many people find it easier, and sometimes more effective, to have this conversation with human resources instead of their supervisor, at least initially. Before you schedule a meeting with HR, consider what accommodations might be helpful and why you need them to do your job. For example, if you are taking a medication that makes it difficult to work an early shift and you are asking for a later start time, it can be a good idea to have a note from your doctor explaining this need.
What to Tell Friends and Family
You might worry that telling your loved ones about the difficulties you experience will be a burden to them. On the other hand, if they don’t know what you’re going through, they can’t support you. If you choose to share your story with your loved ones, do it during a time when you’re feeling good. The middle of a crisis is not the best time to start a difficult conversation.
If you are worried that your loved ones might not handle the information well, it might be helpful to rehearse the conversation with a therapist, crisis counselor, or another person who is in recovery for their mental health.
You may find that after you have talked to your loved ones:
- They are relieved to have a better understanding of what you have been facing
- They appreciate knowing the coping strategies that work for you
- They ask you what they can do to help
What to Tell an Elected Official
If your goal in sharing your story is to enlighten government representatives, it is important to realize that you will likely get very little time with them. For this reason, it can be helpful to rehearse what is sometimes called an “Elevator Speech,” a version of your story that is short enough to fit into an elevator ride. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) recommends including the following 7 components:
- A quick introduction
Who are you?
How has mental health impacted you? Do you struggle with your own mental health or are you the loved one or caregiver of someone who is recovering?
What is it that you are hoping the person will do after they hear your story?
- What happened? What led to you or your loved one needing help?
- What helped? After things went wrong, what tools helped to begin the recovery process?
- What changed? After you or your friend/family member were able to get support, how did your life turn out differently?
- What needs to be done? Is there a problem that still exists that people need to know about?
- What can help other people? For the people who are still struggling, what is it that they need?
- Ask the person to support you.
What if the Conversation Goes Poorly?
There is a chance that when you share your story, your boss, loved one, doctor, or government representative will not have the reaction you had hoped for. It may be useful to prepare in advance for unhelpful responses:
- Include in the conversation someone who already supports your mental health journey.
- Tell the person in very clear terms what it is that you want from them; this might prevent the person from trying to jump into action mode when it is not needed or wanted.
- If the person has an overly strong reaction of worry, you might need to emphasize how far you have come in your journey.
- Should the person respond in an angry, minimizing, or hurtful way, or try to make the conversation about themselves, it might be helpful to practice a line you will use to escape the discussion and set a boundary.
At Highland Hospital, we want you to feel comfortable telling your recovery story to the people who matter to you. We are here to listen, and we can help you determine how you wish to present this part of your life to the people around you. Contact our West Virginia team today.