The Misunderstandings Of Opening Up About Mental Health
Mental health is a very sensitive topic that people don’t talk about in open. There is a lot of scope for misunderstanding when a person opens up about his/her mental health issues. Below I look at the reasons why having a mental health conversation is tough for the one who is suffering and how the listener runs the risk of misunderstanding the one who is suffering.
Fear from a victim’s perspective:
For someone who is suffering with a mental health disorder, it obviously makes a lot of sense to speak up and seek help. Once the root cause of the disorder is identified, they can start working from there and get their life back on track and do much more in life. But opening up is not easy for the following reasons.
1. The danger of not being understood: It’s no secret that mental health awareness levels in India are very low. It’s tough for a normal person to understand what someone suffering from chronic depression or any other mental health disorder is going through. We, as a society, discuss a lot about other health aspects but not mental health. So there is always this thought at the back of the mind if the person, whom the victim is willing to talk to, will understand what they are going through in reality.
2. Fear of being labelled weak: Be strong and overcome challenges that come your way is something we’ve always heard from people around us, which is a good and fair suggestion, but we haven’t been taught that it’s ok to feel sad, experience fear and look helpless at times. So we go mad when we experience these negative emotions that makes us mentally sick. Human mind comes with all sorts of emotions, not just the positive ones.
We are so used to hearing and sharing only positive experiences and we imagine thats how life should be. So if someone opens up about their negative side or their struggles in life they run the risk of being branded a weak person.
3. Fear of being left out: What follows the fear of being labelled weak is the fear of being left out. What if friends and relatives no longer want to interact with me or ignore me if I open up about my mental health? It is this fear alone that forces people to pretend that everything is going good in their life even when it isn’t. And this is why (subconsciously) people are happy to fake themselves to fit into the society and their surroundings.
Misunderstandings from a listener’s perspective:
As someone who has been vocal about my mental health of late, I’ve seen people reacting in different ways when I talk about this subject. I feel blessed to have family and friends who acknowledged and understand me for who I am but I also sense different reactions from people. Here are some misunderstandings that are bound to pop up:
4. Why is he/she making a big deal out of it: Problems, struggles and challenges exist for every human. You might be dealing with it well or just about managing it, but there are people who feel overburdened or constantly overwhelmed to face situations in life. There are many factors that go into shaping a person to be stable in life and if few important factors are off track then it tends to get tough for people to be stable. And over a period of time they develop a depressive or anxiety disorder which hampers their lives going forward. So acknowledge that their issues are real.
5. You are not responsible to find a solution for them: One of the common thing I noticed when I open up about my mental health struggles with people is that they sense I am expecting a solution from them. For some people just a deep conversation with someone they trust is enough to make them feel secure (even if it is for time being). Do not feel overburdened or overwhelmed because not even a psychologist can find an instant solution for the one who is suffering. It takes time and effort to do so.
You are not responsible for figuring out a solution for other people’s problems but you can just sit with them, empathise with their mood and feelings, acknowledge the tough times they are going through and if possible highlight their strengths and good qualities in them. Another no-go zone is dishing out suggestions. While this is so tempting to do so (and I am guilty of it too), suggestions without understanding other people’s problems can have a reverse effect.
6. You might feel sympathy is round the corner: There is a very thin line between someone genuinely expressing themselves and those who are seeking sympathy. While it is very common to interpret that the other person is expressing his/her sorrows to gain sympathy and attention, the listeners often run the risk of categorising people struggling with genuine mental health issues as ‘sympathy seekers’. This is not necessarily the case with everyone.
Try to understand if that person is being genuine or not like how you do analyse people in other aspects of life.