Let’s Talk: How to Normalize Conversations Around Mental Health

Wednesday, May 31 2023

Experiencing a mental health concern can make you feel alone and like no one understands what you’re going through. Talking about it with someone else — even a close family member or friend —  may seem impossible. Many people with mental health concerns avoid talking about their mental health due to stigma, feeling shame or embarrassment, or simply feeling uncomfortable. 

While it’s understandable to feel this way, know that you’re not alone. Whether it’s you or someone you love going through mental health challenges, opening up and talking about mental health with others can be a big first step in getting help and reducing mental health stigma. Here, we’ll share some tips from collegiate athletes and mental health advocates on how you can begin the conversation. 

How to normalize conversations around mental health

1. Start with yourself 

Normalizing talking about mental health can start with you. Checking in with yourself regularly can help you identify a potential mental health concern and recognize that you may need some support. This can help motivate you to turn to others for help. 

In a blog for The Columbus Dispatch, Harry Miller, a student at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, former collegiate football athlete, and mental health advocate says that this first conversation with yourself may result in you deciding to something differently in your life, including asking a trusted person — or a mental health professional — for help. 

Miller recommends asking yourself questions such as: 

  • How am I feeling? 
  • Are there certain topics or activities that make my heart race, think negatively, or feel hopeless? 
  • When am I happiest?
“For me, a conversation with myself was the start of emerging from my once-hidden challenges, and from there I was able to have honest conversations with my coach, my family, my friends, and then the world about what I needed to do to reassemble and save my own life. - Harry Miller

2. Allow yourself to be vulnerable 

Being vulnerable is hardly ever comfortable. You may fear that speaking up about your mental health could result in backlash or embarrassment. It’s normal to feel this way, but know you’re not alone. 

“It can be hard for people to open up about their struggles because they may feel like their issues aren’t big enough or they may be embarrassed to speak up about something,” says Allie Skaggs, a junior and second baseman at the University of Arizona, in an opinion post for the Arizona Daily Star. “Putting your full, authentic self out on display in search of finding help can be scary, and it takes a lot of bravery to take that first step.”

Your feelings are valid and deserve attention. It can be easier to allow yourself to be vulnerable with someone you trust, like a longtime friend, family member, doctor, or mental health professional. Building up the courage to open up to someone not only helps you take the first step toward getting support, but also shows you that you don’t have to do it all on your own. 

“The most important thing that has come from my mental health journey is my new comfort with the idea of being vulnerable. For so long, I tried to be strong on my own…we are not meant to wear all of our emotions, feelings, and struggles on our own, and it is okay to rely on others.” - Allie Skaggs 

3. Open up to someone you trust 

Normalizing talking about mental health starts with just one conversation. Not only can it help you or a loved one get the help they need, but it can also validate feelings and establish a strong support system. 

Melissa Stockwell, an Iraq war veteran and professional Paralympic athlete, emphasizes this in a column for The Colorado Springs Gazette

“We need to talk to ourselves and others about our struggles and our joys to improve our mental wellness. I have found that talking to someone about the worries I have and the everyday stressors I struggle with is so helpful to help put things in perspective and balance priorities.” - Melissa Stockwell 

So, how exactly do you start that first conversation? Consider the following tips  to help make opening up a bit easier: 

  • Write down what you want to say. Nerves can cause forgetfulness, so it can help to jot down the important things you want to share so you can make the most of the conversation. 
  • Find and share info on what you’re experiencing. This can help the person you’re speaking to better understand your symptoms and what you’re going through. 
  • Send a text if it’s more comfortable than face-to-face conversation. Whether it’s to set up a time and place to talk or to open up about all of your feelings, sending a text to make that first outreach to someone is perfectly okay if it’s what you’re comfortable with. Keep in mind that it may be beneficial down the line to speak in person so you can have your confidant’s undivided attention, ensure their understanding, and allow for a more in-depth conversation, if helpful. 
  • Find a comfortable space to talk. This may be at your home, on a drive, or a quiet area outdoors. For some, a private, safe space in a licensed therapist’s office is most preferable for having that first conversation around mental health. There is no right or wrong place to start the conversation as long as you feel comfortable. 

What to do if someone opens up to you about their mental health 

You may be wondering how you can best support a loved one if they open up to you about a mental health concern. How you react plays just as big a role in normalizing talking about mental health as speaking up.  It’s important to listen intently and let them know you hear them. It’s okay if you don’t fully understand what they’re going through — ask questions and even do your own research to get more information. 

Most importantly, don’t judge or share details of the conversation with others. Your loved one has trusted you enough to open up, so it’s important not to break that trust. Let them know that you’re there for them and are willing to help them get professional support if they’re open to it. 

If you or someone you know is in crisis, get help right away. Call 988 for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or find other suicide prevention resources here

It’s okay to speak up and seek help 

Speaking up about a mental health concern is a courageous first step toward normalizing conversations around mental health. It can also be a key step in getting you or someone you love the support they need to improve their mental well-being. Talking to a licensed mental health professional can help you or a loved one build skills to better cope with mental health challenges and feel better. If you or a loved one would like to start talk therapy, SonderMind can help. Let us know what you’re looking for in a therapist, and we’ll find a licensed professional who’s right for you.

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