How Can You Talk About Mental Illness?
How to Talk About Mental Illness?!
Even though I’m including this in my “You Ask, I Answer” series, I have never actually been asked about how to talk about mental illness or wellness. I just receive a lot of comments about how brave I am for talking about mental illness and wellness.
I think that bravery is really unwarranted, so I kind of brush the compliments off.
But I do want to talk more practically about mental health on this blog, not just tell you my own stories about what I am going through or whatever. So I thought I’d take that comment on being brave for talking about mental illness and turn it around a bit to talk about HOW to talk about mental illness.
First of all:
How to Talk About Mental Illness?
In the video, I was saying that I don’t think it’s brave of me to talk about mental illness or mental wellness because:
- I don’t think there is anything to be ashamed about in mental wellbeing or mental illness. When you remove the shame, it’s easy to talk about things openly
- I don’t feel shame about it because I firmly believe that mental illness is a very common, very normal experience. We might not call it “mental illness” when we have an eating disorder, ADHD or are deeply depressed, anxious, filled with panic or any of the other many, many things that comprise a “mental illness” but we actually do.
- If you have not had an experience with mental illness yet, you will, or someone you love will. Literally two thirds of the planet is touched by disability, so the more normal we make it to talk about this, the easier it’s going to be for all of us: when you get your brain injury, you’ll find it easier to deal with when you have already accepted disability as a natural and normal part of the human experience.
Essentially, what I’m saying here is that in talking about mental illness, we need to:
Remove the Shame in Mental Health
We have simply got to get that shame out of there.
This is not just for those to whom or with whom we are talking about mental illness: we need to remove the shame from our own minds as we talk, think or emote on this subject.
This is because if we do believe (deep down) that this is shameful, it makes it impossible to talk about openly. If we counsel someone with a mental illness and we think it’s shameful in any way that they have a mental illness, it will come across and that person will feel it, I guarantee you.It's just not possible to really talk about mental illness and address it and heal from it if there is shame involved
How Can We Remove the Shame of Mental Illness?
Make Mental Illness Normal
The way that I personally deal with shame is to normalize it: I look at the statistics of mental illness and the definitions of what makes something a “mental illness” and I’m blown over by how common it all really is.
What’s really freaky right now is anyone who does not have a mental illness or any experience with it!
Get on the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) site and really poke around, read through their excellent blog posts and articles and see how normal mental illness really is. I think this really helps in taking away the shame.
2. Connect with Something More than Yourself
I’m really spiritual, so for me, I needed to connect with Source (God, Ohm, whatever you want to call that Divine Energy that powers the universe).
For me, it went something like this: spend time in nature, practice art, pray, meditate. Connect with Source. Realize that nothing that Source creates is imperfect so I was created as I should be. I’m not the royal fuckup I thought I was. Okay, so, if I’m not a fuckup, what am I? I’m just a human being who is learning and striving to grow closer to God.
In understanding this, I’ve set my vision very squarely on God and I use that love to ground and connect me.
There are many paths to the same source: this is what works for me and something different might work for you. The point here is to find something more than yourself to connect with, and hold on to as you recognize your wholeness and remove the shame from your ideas on who you are.
I think it’s better to find your connection in something outside of the human because humans are… human! We all flail and fail and if we tether ourselves on someone else, it creates pressure on relationships and causes them to crash. If you are spiritual, God is always the answer; if you aren’t, try nature or the universe (how can you not look at the cosmos and not see your stardust-self reflected in the scheme of this all?).
I can go on forever on this subject, so I want to be sure to stick to the point: how to talk about mental illness.
So far, I’ve covered that in order to be open about it, we need to remove the shame of it. That’s probably the hardest part in talking about mental illness (or healing from it, or even acknowledging the need for mental wellness), because we’ve all been raised in Western culture (and many others) to see mental illness as an Awful Thing that We Should Not Talk About.
But, seriously: where is that getting us?
It’s getting us to the point of all of us being mentally unwell in some way, shape or form. It’s getting us to truly alarming statistics of child, teen and adult mental unhealth (check out the NAMI stats below).
So, screw it. I just don’t want to go there anymore.
I claim wholeness by being honest about where it’s hard. I seek connections to hold on to and help me through, and I recognize that this is ultimately making me stronger.
Podcast and PDF
The podcast episode is below and the downloadable PDF is linked here and in button below (just click it: it will take you to Gumroad, where it will say “name a fair price” or something like that – feel free to put 0 in the box (and you can feel free to pay for it too – really, it’s all good and I won’t be hurt!). After you enter a number, it will take you to the next screen where you enter your email address for the download. I do not store your email address and I won’t bug you after – this is NOT a bait-and-switch thing where I say “free download” just to get your email address then harass you. NOPE! The system will then automatically send you the PDF to download via your email).
Meriah Nichols is a career counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one gifted 2E). Deaf, with C-PTSD and TBI, she’s also a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.