By ABCS RCM
Mental health is a complex topic that can bring up a variety of emotions. However, it is still important to talk to family members about mental illness.
Some families have open lines of communication while others do not. In some instances, a mental illness may occur in a family’s history, so family members may not be surprised that there is an diagnosis. Families may have a history of mental illness and openly talk about symptoms, diagnoses and treatment options. Yet, in other families, this is a taboo topic which members wish to avoid bringing up in conversations.
The way individuals were raised, the relationship they have with other family members and the closeness of their extended relatives are all influencing factors. These factors all contribute to the manner in which individuals talk to their family about mental illness and behavioral health in general.
Due to misconceptions and lingering stigmas about the origin and cause of mental illness people may feel guilt or shame. In other cases, people may not want family members to worry about them. Additional emotions reactions may include disbelief, fear, anger and grief.
Acceptance of a mental health condition can take time, both for diagnosed individuals as well as their friends and family members. However, as the American Psychological Association points out, acceptance of the diagnoses happens at a different pace for different people. One of the most important things that family members can do to support another family member who has a serious mental illness is to educate themselves.
But silence over the long-term is not the healthiest option, though it may feel like the easiest option. People can reduce their stress levels if they are able to voice their feelings and concerns with someone who is sympathetic. This act alone can make a person feel better.
What people need is for their family members and loved ones to understand their condition and encourage recovery. Some family members may not know much about conditions like depression, bipolar or PTSD. One possibility is to share high-quality, objective information about the topic. This will take some of the pressure off and increase the likelihood that family members will open up and have an honest conversation about their thoughts on mental illness.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers some general guidelines on talking about mental illnesses with family and friends. This advice is not set in stone and is only meant to offer a starting point for conversations.
Here are four concepts to follow when sharing mental health information with family members:
 Individuals should share details when they feel well and are having a good day. Introduce the details about the mental illness in a calm environment.
 The sharing of information should serve a purpose. People suffering from mental health conditions can share details in order to explain their occasional absence from family events. If they are concerns or questions about behavior, some details about the mental illness can be shared. The amount of information that is shared is up to the individual and their unique family dynamic.
 People should only share details about their mental health when they feel ready. Talking about this topic is a very personal decision. One strategy is to practice disclosing with an experienced psychiatrist, therapist or counselor. In this controlled and safe environment, people can more freely discuss their worries and ask questions. This practice can also help to clarify their thoughts about mental health and reflect on what people should be told about their mental health condition.
 Individuals do not have to share everything. Individuals should set boundaries and understand that they do not have to share everything. Keep the conversation positive and share good stories. Some people may not be able to handle this kind of conversation, so they may have difficulties in providing any support. However, there are many people who will likely feel honored and trusted due to the fact that this very personal information was shared with them.
Ultimately, people need to see a trained and experienced mental health professional. This is the best way for them to find the support that they need and recovery from their illness. It is helpful if people can avoid losing critical support. There is a risk that if individuals remain silent, they will not receive the support that they need.
For additional information about this topic, please contact Providers For Healthy Living. As a behavioral & mental health practice, they have been providing experienced behavioral health services since 2011. Their direct phone number is 614-664-3595 or 419-605-9817.
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