Did you know that 1 in 4 Texans are estimated to have a mental illness? Think of all the busy places you’ve been this summer—that’s like 25% of the people swimming in Barton Springs Pool or a ¼ of the people shopping the Houston Galleria. And even though it’s THAT common, we struggle to talk about it because our Facebook feeds deceptively make us think that everyone is having a blast in life without any of the heartache.
So it’s no wonder you’re struggling to find the words—there aren’t any good examples out there of how to talk to loved ones about counseling. But no worries, I’ll walk you through it and have you sharing your truth, confidently and successfully, in no time flat.
PART ONE: ASK YOURSELF THESE QUESTIONS
1) Are you telling your friend or family because you think they’ll find out anyways?
Unless you’re using your parent’s insurance or your roommate knows your exact schedule, there’s a slim chance that anyone will find out you’re in counseling. Your counselor will NEVER disclose anything, without your permission, to anyone. Even if someone calls up your counselor and asks for you by name—they still will not share any info or acknowledge even knowing you!
2) WHY is it important to you that others know?
Having a good reason will allow you to clarify exactly what to say and how you say it...that equals a smooth convo and confident feels. WIN!
Some good reasons to disclose:
You really trust that person and feel that it will bring you closer to them.
You’d like that person to emotionally support you through this tough time.
You want to encourage that other person to go to counseling too.
And some bad reasons:
You secretly want them to feel badly—like trying to make the point to your ex that they hurt you after a breakup—bad idea.
You feel forced, like the other person will abandon you if you don’t share this info.
You think it’s their right to know. Truth is, it’s your private info and you have power to decide with whom and how much to share.
3) How well do you think that person will respond?
Ideally, you’re sharing this info because it will be beneficial to YOU in one way or another. If you foresee your parent fainting or your friend sharing the news with the rest of your friends—that’s a good sign NOT to tell them. That said, sometimes people avoid sharing that they're in counseling because they fear that they’ll be judged or pitied. I’ve witnessed people time and time again take the risk of sharing their story and being pleasantly surprised that their loved one not only understood and cared but even disclosed their own personal struggles with mental illness. Take away: you never know unless you try.
4.) Is it the right time?
Sure, you can tell them right away but you can also wait a few months or even after treatment is completed. The point is that you have options, consider when would be the best time for YOU.
PART TWO: HOW TO SAY IT CONFIDENTLY
1. Know WHY You’re Doing It
See Question 1-4 above!
2. Have an Ideal Outcome in Mind
If everything were to go perfectly, how would you know? What would you ideally want the other person to say/do? This’ll help you guide the convo and evaluate if things went as you’d hoped.
3. Practice Saying It
People can’t read our minds…we have to be skilled at letting them know how and what we feel and need. Practice saying it in a way that gets to your ideal outcome.
Ex: “I’ve been struggling emotionally and going to counseling to try and work things out. I wanted you to know so that you understood that I have not been distant because of anything that you’ve done. I might need you to be more proactive at asking me to hang out until I get my motivation back up.”
Here are some tried and true ways to practice:
Write it down word for word
Say it out loud to yourself
Consider role playing the convo with your counselor
4. Wait for a Natural Opener
Although not necessary, weaving the topic into a conversation will make it feel more natural to you and the other person. If you schedule it out, it can cause both parties lots of anxiety. Imagine how much anticipation there’d be if you said something like, “I want to talk to you about something important next week.” By the time the convo rolls around, you’ll both be so tense that any flicker of confidence will fly out the window.
5. Resist the Urge to Over-Explain, Over-Divulge, or Downplay
Telling someone you’ve been in counseling can sometimes open a door to a deeper conversation about how and why you have been struggling emotionally. If you’d like to have that convo, then great…otherwise, you’ll want to set some boundaries and practice expressing them (see step #3). Also, resist the urge to downplay or justify your current struggles. You don’t need to be apologetic about your current circumstances. You’re already doing everything in your power to make it better, especially by going to counseling.
6. Don’t Feel Pressured to Comfort the Other Person
You’re the one hurting, remember? Some people take things personally or start worrying that it’s their fault (parents are often guilty of this). It’s absolutely OK to let the person know that they shouldn’t worry but if they need more reassurance than that, you might want to encourage them to talk to someone other than you about how they might be coping (or not coping) with the news.
7. Be Prepared to Describe How You Want to Be Supported
The natural response when someone says they’re hurting is “how can I help?” Practice giving a genuine answer to this. Even if you say something like, “Just being here with me and listening is enough” will help put the other person at ease. This is your opportunity to share with them what you need—don’t waste it—having positive sources of support can be a big boost to recovering from depression and anxiety.
8. Maintain Contact and Communication
Once you’ve shared the news, don’t fall off the map. People will get concerned if you stop answering calls or ignoring texts. Stay connected and keep people posted on how you’re doing. Don’t be surprised if they overdo the pampering at first…it’ll take them a bit of time to realize that you’re still the same person and that being supportive doesn’t have to mean calling you every 5 minutes. Be patient and vocal about what you need (see step #7).
PART THREE: FINAL CONSIDERATIONS
Your Loved One Might Need Time to Process
We’re all different in the ways that we react to things. Some people will be immediately reactive and supportive and others might be stunned and need time to process. Don’t take it personal…give that person time to come around to the idea of you being in counseling. Hell, it likely took you weeks, months, or years to wrap your mind around the idea for yourself—it won’t be much different for them.
Give Your Friends & Family Resources to Help Them Understand
Some people come from cultural backgrounds were mental health is simply not a topic of discussion. Add stigma and fear to the mix and you get folks who might be afraid or simply unclear about what constitutes depression, or the exact symptoms of anxiety, or the ways in which counseling works. Having resources and helpful material for them to read might be a great way to bring them up to speed. Ask your counselor for help with this, they’ll likely have lots of stuff on hand.
Well there you have it. Now go forth and share, share, share! Hope this helps you feel more confident talking with folks about your mental health. I’d love to hear about your experiences and whether these tips worked for you. Share your comments below. If you’d like a bit more guidance about how to people about counseling or have questions, feel free to call at 512-586-7001 or email me. I’m happy to help where I can. If you’re looking for help with depression, anxiety, and confidence, learn more about my services here or schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation today.