Talking to Your Family about Mental Illness

Life doesn’t always turn out the way we want it. Sometimes we are fairly able to cope with life’s ups and downs. We eventually get back on our feet with help from our families and friends. But other times, we take a longer time to recover from setbacks. We may find ourselves spinning or paralyzed by the demands of our day-to-day life. In such situations, feelings of “going crazy” are not uncommon.

What can you do if you think you may have a mental illness? How do you bring this up to your family?

First, recognize that your anger and shame is perfectly normal. In Asian communities, mental illness still has its social stigma. It is understandable if you do not want anyone to know what you’re struggling with. However, if you take the first step to seek therapy as well as support from your family, you may find the road to recovery much smoother.  Feelings of shame usually arise when we expect others to look down on us or judge us. If your family has been there for you when you had setbacks in the past, they are likely to continue giving you the support you need in the face of mental health issues.

If you decide to tell your family, focus on what you find troubling about your behavior. For example: “I’m finding it difficult to focus at work, yet at night I keep having nightmares about my projects.” Or: “I’ve been having sudden attacks of breathlessness and a sense that I’m going to die, all out of the blue, and I’m worried about it. I think I should talk to someone.”

Many treatment methods have shown remarkable success in addressing symptoms of mental illness. Assure your family that with the right therapy and perhaps medication, most people with mental illness continue to lead normal lives; many even enjoy successful careers and relationships. If you’ve done some research on what you’re experiencing, share the information with them. Let them know your prognosis for recovery.

State what you need from your family. It could be asking them to accompany you on your first visit to the therapist’s office, or give you time for yourself.  This could also be a good time to explain to your kids why you’re unable to spend as much time with them as you’d like to, and assure them that you’ll get better with the help of a doctor or therapist.

What comes to mind as you read this article? What barriers do you think you would face? Do you know someone who had unexpected results when they shared news of their mental illness to their family? I invite you to share your thoughts with me.

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