Let’s Be Real: Getting Honest About Mental Health

May 15, 2018

It's time to ask ourselves: how honest are we when it comes to mental health, and can we be doing better? 

For a long time the stigma surrounding mental health silenced the necessary mental health conversations, and it isolated everyone who really needed to hear them. And although we have made big strides in fighting stigma, there is still work left to be done. We can all play a part in the solution by being open, being honest, and just showing up for the conversation.

Here are a few ways to think about honesty when it comes to your mental wellness, and the mental wellness of the people you care about.

1.    Be honest about your mental health needs

Our goal is to speak as easily and plainly about a mental health need as we would a physical health need. If you broke your foot, let’s say, wouldn’t you say something about it? Harboring a mental health need in secret can be just as harmful as limping around on a fractured metatarsal all week, telling everyone you feel strong as an ox.

The only way to seek help is to be honest and ask for it. Mental health is difficult enough to manage on its own; no one should feel ashamed of their health needs on top of it all.

Your honesty about mental health can also be a gift to someone else. When one person finds the courage to be open, and honest, and to ask for help, he or she gives the next person courage to follow in those footsteps. To encourage the people you care about to be honest about their health needs, try to model that honesty yourself, and instruct by example.

2.    Encourage honesty from others

It’s always a good time to check in on the people you care about and ask how they’re really doing. If someone isn’t ready yet to be honest about their own experience yet, you can’t force them to it, but you can make your presence, your non-judgment, and your compassion known. Whenever they’re ready, your job is to just be there.

If you notice worrisome behavior in someone close to you—maybe they are drinking more than usual, or they haven’t been leaving the home—it’s ok to be honest and let them know you’re worried. Although avoiding hard conversation may seem the easy way out, the quick sting of an honest word, delivered in kindness, is preferable in the long run. Sometimes we have to do the good, hard thing for the ones we care about.

3.    Reward honesty with compassion

People may confide in you about challenges you haven’t encountered, or needs you don’t understand, and feelings they have harbored guiltily. What is needed of you here isn’t understanding, just the willingness to try to understand, and all your powers of compassion. A good way to make your loved ones feel heard, when they are brave enough to speak honestly, is to thank them for sharing. Just saying, “I’m really glad you told me what you’re going through,” can go a long way.

4.    Be honest with yourself too

Just in the same way it’s easy to turn a blind eye to a loved one’s concerning behavior, it can be even easier to ignore our own behavior and health needs. Asking for help can be scary business, and it’s easy to convince ourselves we’re doing just fine without. If you are struggling with a mental health challenge, and if things aren’t getting better, if you feel as if there’s a rut you just can’t get yourself out of, it’s like they say: the first step to recovery is admitting to yourself that something just isn’t right.

A good way to acknowledge your own health needs and challenges with honesty is to tell your story. When we tell our mental health and wellness stories, it helps us to externalize it all, make sense of it, and to see it from a clearer perspective. It’s a chance to see how even the painful chapters of our lives have pushed us to grow. Come share your #BeThereStory at wellbeingtrust.org.

We leave you with a challenge: next time someone asks how you’re doing, tell them how you’re really doing.

We want to know how honesty and openness figure into your well being. Join the conversation online using the hashtags #BeWell, #BeHeard, and #BeThere.

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