For all the developments we’ve witnessed in mental health care, there remains a considerable population of non-believers, marked by their dismissive and apathetic remarks. Sadly, some of them exist inside our very homes and are the first people we’d expect to support us from the onset. Although this seems to blur our path towards mental and emotional well-being, there are several ways to navigate such situations.
Understanding Is A Two-Way Street
Believe that, ultimately, your family wants what’s best for you. There could be generational and environmental circumstances that have placed all of you in an uncommon ground. Perhaps, they may have been raised with no privilege to acknowledge and prioritize mental illness. Unlike us, most of our parents grew up in an era where mental health was relatively taboo.
A 2015 survey conducted by Matters of the Mind revealed that millennials have better access to mental health resources, making it easier for them to address related issues.
On the one hand, empathy does not come easy for everyone. Others may lack the capacity to understand a situation they have never experienced. There is a cognitive barrier that hinders them from comprehending and having compassion for causes, not affecting them directly. It may be difficult not to take personally as this may make us feel inadequate and undeserving of concern from our loved ones.
Family members could also be fighting their own battles. Choosing to prioritize themselves doesn’t automatically mean they don’t care. They are just unable to extend emotional resources to other people at the moment.
Knowledge Is Power
Some family members may have false notions of mental health, which proper education can hopefully address. Openly discussing your unique struggles makes the concept of mental health more personal, rather than being another abstract and complex idea they may intentionally avoid.
Nicholas J. Westers, Psy.D. ABPP, Associate Professor at UT Southwestern and Children’s Health clinical psychologist, pointed out that “Having great mental health is actually about developing, encouraging and practicing daily healthy habits – like sharing and accepting feelings, correcting unpleasant and unhealthy thinking, showing empathy and building resiliency.”
It does take a lot of strength to be vulnerable, most especially with the people closest to you. The scariest part of speaking your truth is the uncertainty of your family’s response, which could take many forms and evolve over multiple discussions.
If you have mustered up enough courage, it will help to come prepared by planning the conversation and setting expectations. Find a communication method that makes you feel comfortable, whether it be a face-to-face conversation, a phone call, or a letter.
You don’t have to disclose everything. You may decide beforehand which experiences you are willing to talk about. You may also convey your trust in them by emphasizing to keep sensitive information to themselves. Doing these will reinforce your control over the discussion.
Try to be as clear and direct as possible. Your family won’t be able to guess what’s on your mind. Rather than merely stating your feelings, provide concrete examples of how your mental condition has manifested in your daily life and the coping mechanisms you have developed to address them. After all, every case of mental illness is different, and there is no single way to approach it.
Encourage your family to learn about your condition. You may suggest relevant reading materials, support groups, and professional counseling to determine the best and healthiest way to help you. It may also protect your loved ones from wrongfully blaming themselves for your mental struggles.
You Are In Control
Despite doing your best in reaching out, there will be people with negative viewpoints so deeply rooted in them that changing their minds seems impossible. Remember, it is not your responsibility to convince them. Their behavior has nothing to do with you as a person.
Someone’s denial of your situation does not make it any less real. Take it as a sign for you to redirect energy spent in getting through them to practicing self-compassion instead. Although you can’t choose your family, you can always control how they affect you.
Perhaps taking a step back and removing yourself from the situation will be the most useful thing. While you don’t want to distance yourself from people you love, you also don’t want to slow your healing.
An essential aspect of recovery is assuming control over your life. Find out what gets you to a better or worse headspace. Prioritize yourself, not other people’s approval.
Existing dysfunctions in your household may impede your road to healing. After all, being able to offer emotional support does not come naturally to everybody. Try shifting your focus to those who can willingly give it to you. It may be in the form of seeking professional help, joining support groups, or connecting with close friends. Take advantage of other outlets that can help you grow and heal.