What to expect when you start talking about mental health

The other day, on the radio, I heard someone say that when you start acknowledging problems and seeking help with your mental health you can lose friends. It is true. The insight gained from working with mental health professionals can make you re-examine your relationships and see those around you through a different filter. It’s not all bad – despite often being fewer in number, the friendships that remain can be deeper, more honest, and keenly felt.

So, what can you expect when you start talking about mental health? I would suggest change, on many fronts. The mere act of talking about your internal world might be intensely uncomfortable for some friends or colleagues, who may either challenge your need to do this or distance themselves. It is entirely possible this is not down to how they feel about you, but rather how your decision may trigger how they feel about themselves. You may find that you respond more viscerally to throw-away comments from friends or colleagues such as ‘she’s a bit mental’ or ‘he’s got OCD.’ Perhaps you can sense some of the difficulty and confusion that lies behind certain behaviours, rather than viewing them as inconveniences to daily life that can be brushed off with a casual diagnosis. You might not be able to joke about others quite so much and this could be perceived by some as a loss of sense of humour.

If you have decided to get help it may also take a while to be able to process and talk to others about what you are going through. Much like learning a new sport develops new muscles but leaves you periodically awkward and achy; defining and expressing emotions that have lain murky for weeks, months or even a lifetime can be equally time-consuming, challenging, and clunky. Even if you get to the point of being able to adequately express how you feel, it can sometimes feel like an endless task to work out when to unleash it to those around you and when to keep it to yourself and save it for later when you can nurture and reflect on your internal world alone or with close friends. This can be a lifelong task, maybe even a personal artform.

Strangely, or perhaps not, those who are open about their mental health sometimes become beacons for the curious. Within friendship groups and in workplaces, people often observe change. You may find that people are interested in you and more prepared to ditch superficial conversations for deeper more searching discussion. They may share your dissatisfaction with the meaninglessness of idle chit chat. If you are able to view this as a tribute to any change, they have witnessed in you, can you embrace it? Could you try not to let fear of saying the wrong thing stop you engaging and allowing conversations to develop naturally? Are you able to practise honesty but at the same time maintain all the compassion you can muster? Such conversations will hopefully lead to others feeling less silenced, stigmatised, and so less alone and more open themselves.

By Sue M

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