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This is a post about how to talk about mental illness. It was written in response to an assumed question behind reader’s comments (see below). If you have a question, here is where to click and ask:

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3. 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 Illness

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?

1. Understand What Mental Illness Actually Is

Just as “physical illness” is broad, so too is “mental illness”. According to NAMI, mental illness includes:

  • Anxiety Disorders
  • ADHD
  • Bi Polar Disorder
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Depression
  • Dissociative Disorders
  • Eating Disorders
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • PTSD
  • Psychosis
  • Schizoaffective Disorder
  • Schizophrenia

    Many of these are very common, especially anxiety and depression. ADHD and eating disorders and not far behind with statistics that show 1 in 5 US Americans being affected. Mental illness is not something that is rare, and it’s not something that is necessarily very high-impacting.

    2. Understand How Common It Is

    Normalizing mental illness takes the sting of shame out. If you look at the statistics of mental illness and the definitions of what makes something a “mental illness” it’s kind of jaw-dropping how common it all really is.

    Experiencing Mental Illness Is Really Pretty Normal

    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. Not only is it very common, but the scope of what constitutes a “mental illness” is broad. Depression counts as a mental illness. So, too does PTSD.

    Rather than mental illness being something freaky and shameful and sort of pushed over-there, out of arms reach, it seems like what’s REALLY freaky is anyone who doesn’t have any kind of experience with it at all. Using the analogy of physical illness, who hasn’t experienced a cold or the flu by some point in their lives? It’s the same with mental illness: who hasn’t experienced depression or anxiety at some point?

    When mental illness is put into a normalized perspective, it’s tough for shame to stick around.

    3. Understand the Historical Perspective

    It can be helpful to understand why we might experience shame with regard to mental illness. Many cultures have historically stigmatized those who have experienced mental illness. Some mental illness in the past equated death, or being cast out by the tribe. With no healing known, it may literally have been dangerous to disclose one’s mental state, safer to simply try and recover on one’s own, in private and secrecy.

    Holding Space

    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).

    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.

    Read More Mental Illness & Wellness Related Posts:

    Awesome Links from NAMI

    Mental Health By the Numbers

    Common Mental Health Conditions

    There is No Shame

    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).

    Subscribe to my podcast by clicking here or the button below.[

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    One Comment

    1. Meriah,

      Love what you have said about normalising mental illness and wellness.

      “I’m lucky; I’m unlucky and I’m normal” is what a dear friend of mine said in 2001 when they were discussing the situation.

      This friend started talking openly about their mental illness in 1992-93.

      The something bigger than themselves they connected with was nature and wildlife biology.

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