Like any other health challenge, mental health challenges won’t always get better on their own. The first step toward feeling better is just finding the courage to tell someone, Hey, I don’t feel ok right now. We can’t very well address problems that we can’t talk about.
Our goal is to talk as easily 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.
For a long time, the stigma surrounding mental health silenced very significant mental health stories, and it isolated everyone who really needed to express their stories and everyone who needed to hear them. And although we have made significant 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 showing up for the conversation.
Here are a few things to consider when it comes to talking about your mental wellbeing and sharing your story.
1. Check in with yourself
We spend a lot of time trying to ignore our unpleasant feelings, but to express ourselves to someone else, it will help to think for a moment: how am I really feeling? What doesn’t feel right?
Here are a few common thoughts and feelings that may signal a mental health challenge:
• A persistent sense of sadness that lingers, sometimes you may not even be sure what it is that you feel sad about.
• Feeling overly anxious or worried most of the time.
• Often feeling empty or hopeless.
• Finding it difficult to concentrate on school work, and losing interest in the things you used to enjoy doing.
• A difficulty with managing your appetite, whether that means overeating or a lack of appetite altogether.
• Having thoughts of self-harm.
If you find yourself dealing with any of the above feelings, let’s try to fix that. There’s no need to wait and hope these things will go away on their own. We all deserve to be well.
2. Talk to someone you trust
It takes courage to tell someone that you’re not feeling ok. Maybe you’re worried about how your loved ones will react, or maybe you don’t want to worry someone you care about with your problems. Let’s get this clear first of all: your wellbeing is worth worrying about! If somebody you cared about was struggling with a mental health challenge, wouldn’t you want to know—wouldn’t you want to help if you could?
When we confide in someone, really we’re honoring them with our trust. It is good to be needed, which is lucky for all of us because we all need help sometimes. The person you talk to about your own mental wellbeing may be a good friend, a significant other, a sibling, a parent, or any other family member or person in your life that you trust. You don’t need to overthink this part. Talk to someone you care about. Find some time to spend together. Then let them know how you’re doing.
3. Tell your story
When we tell our stories to the people we care about, we’re not just helping them understand how we feel; we’re also helping ourselves figure out how we think. When we leave our thoughts to bounce around in our heads too long, it can get so difficult to make sense of anything—everything becomes a loud jumble of worry. But when we let it out—when we tell our story—that gives us a chance to work through it, to hear it aloud, and to see it all more clearly.
It also provides us with a chance to move on, and to see how much we’ve grown, and to see how much we’ve faced already. To get to that next chapter of our story, we have to put the sentences out there, place a period down at the end of it, and then we can finally start turning the page.
4. Now can keep the conversation going
Mental health, just like physical health, isn’t a one-time conversation. We will always have our good days and our bad, but the good news is, now that you’ve opened up this communication once, the second time, and third and so on will be that much easier. And that’s the goal, isn’t it? To make the conversation easy. Next time they ask you how you’re doing, you can just be honest. Think of this first conversation as a foundation.
5. Your story is important to others
When you talk about your own mental wellbeing, it 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 the courage to follow in those footsteps. To encourage the people, you care about to be open about their health needs, try to model that openness yourself, and instruct by example.
You never know, it may be that your story is exactly the thing someone else needs to hear right now.
Mental health challenges are difficult enough on their own. No one should struggle with them alone. You can share your story and join the conversation on social using the hashtags #BeWell, #BeHeard, and #BeThere.
And if you need little extra courage before talking to the people close to you, there are teens at Teen Line who want to listen. Call 310-855-4673, or text TEEN to 839863. Teen Line is open for calls from 6-10 PM California time. Another contact is Oregon Youth Line – Call 877-968-8491 or text TEEN2TEEN to 839863.