Tired of Hiding? 3 Simple Tips To End the Secrecy and Reduce the Stigma [Mental Illness]

Suffering in silence is common. Imagine if you didn't have to. Scroll down to learn communication strategies to help #EndTheStigma.

The Question


What will people think if you tell them you or someone you love lives with mental illness?

Will they judge?

Will they tell “everyone”?


Will they support you ... or shun you?


When I was initially navigating the impact of childhood trauma, I was petrified to tell anyone what I was experiencing. Stuck in a web of inner hell, I struggled in silence. Long periods of time passed where I barely got out of bed. Deep down, I knew I wasn’t alone, but I was afraid to talk about it.


Eventually (with the help of an excellent therapist) I started moving forward. Bit by bit, day by day, I started to become more functional.


Then one day I stopped caring what other people might think.


At that precise moment, a new world of healing presented itself to me.


It didn’t happen overnight.


But it happened.



The Problem


You suffer in silence.

First, remind yourself you're not alone. One in five of the people you know, are working through a mental illness.


Then...


Consider the Benefits


1) Maybe they have “been there done that” and totally get it. (For me, amazing things came out of this particular surprise benefit.)

  • You can sit in silence with them.

  • You can cry together.

  • They understand-so no explanations are needed.

  • It is possible that they have solid advice to tackle a difficult situation.

  • They may have resources to share...or know someone who does.

2) They are suffering in silence too,

OR they know someone who is in pain.

  • Your willingness to talk may spark a conversation that helps someone.

  • You provide them with much need education and they become more prepared to navigate mental illness in the future.



The Solution


Take control of your language and how you tell people what you are experiencing.

The words we use to describe our thoughts have a powerful impact on how people interpret our feelings. Our words define their perception of what we are experiencing.


Test the water with your big toe. No canon balls!




AKA - drop hints.



When I decided to be more open about mental illness I explored all the WH questions:


Who should I tell...

What do I tell...

When…

Where…

How...


I completely over thought it. ('Cuz that’s how I roll.)


Start slow. Talk to people you are comfortable with. Soften, depersonalize, and empower your language until you feel that you can trust them.


Tip #1


Soften the words you use to describe how you feel (use less powerful descriptions):


  • “I am feeling overwhelmed,” rather than “I am depressed.”

  • “Sometimes I get uncomfortable in crowds,” instead of “I have social anxiety.”


**Important: I am not suggesting you minimize HOW you feel. Your feelings are powerful and valid. This is a tool to determine if a person will understand what you are going through. A strategy to identify who you will feel safe talking to.



Tip #2


Depersonalize what you say (take the “I” out):


  • Replace “I am so overwhelmed,” with “That seems so overwhelming.”

  • In lieu of “That makes me anxious,” say, “It seems like there will be too many people there.”



Tip #3


Take control/empower your language:


What you experienced:

  • You couldn’t get out of bed.

What you say:

  • “I decided to chill out and do nothing all weekend.”

What you experienced:

  • Too many people make you anxious.

What you say:

  • "I chose not to go to that party because there were too many people."



Those who have experienced it will get it. They will identify with the what and the why of the things you say. People who are comfortable talking about what your are experiencing will engage in a meaningful conversation.



One day in the not so distant past, I blurted out to a couple work acquaintances, “I’m not going to go to that party. My anxiety is through the roof lately and I will be super uncomfortable.”


Several things happened that day:

  1. I blew myself away with my newfound transparency.

  2. I didn’t explode, and I didn't implode.

  3. They didn’t judge.

  4. Both of them were surprised. (Of course they were. We all hide it well).

  5. I wasn't treated differently. (It actually strengthened those relationships.)

When I first started this journey I never imagined I could EVER be so bold about how I felt.



Have you, or would you try any of these strategies? How did it feel, or how do you think it would feel? Please tell us in the comments.



About the author: Robyn's career as a speech-language pathologist (SLP) together with her graduate education in psychology gives her a unique perspective of cognitive-linguistic (thinking-talking) difficulties associated with daily stress and mental illness. #ThinkTalkDo

More about Robyn.


Disclaimer: Content in this blog is for informational purposes only. Statements are Robyn's thoughts and opinions and should NOT be used to diagnose or treat any disorders related to cognition, communication, or mental illness.


For mental health concerns please contact your doctor or therapist. If you need a mental health provider, Psychology Today is an excellent resource.

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CogniCoach 2018