By Lauren Cook

One of the best ways to begin integrating mental health in our lives is to begin talking about it openly with others. While we can learn about it (naming it) and empower ourselves by seeking out resources (facing it), we also have to begin looking out for each other (embracing it). This is a two-fold experience. We need to be open to hearing from others and we need to begin reaching out to those that we see in need.

I know these conversations aren’t always easy or fun, but they are crucial. If you want to have open and honest relationships with the people you love, it means that you have to talk about mental health at some point. Avoiding, denying, or minimizing the problem (if there is one) only makes the situation worse. When you can talk about mental health in a safe way, your relationships will be that much stronger.

What Do I Do if I I Need to Talk to Someone
You may be reading this and having that tickle in your stomach that you need help. Getting help and starting the conversation is the hardest part. It feels risky. You might worry that your family and friends will judge you, they won’t understand, or they will think you’re overreacting. If they have any of those responses or criticisms, then it’s best to reach out to a professional. They work with mental health challenges on a daily basis and are well-equipped to help you.

But how do you begin this conversation? Even telling a professional (who is a stranger) about your hardship can feel just as tough as telling a family member. How can you get through this conversation?
1. Think about what you want to say. Maybe it will help you to write it down, to say it in front of the mirror, or to listen to some music that expresses how you are feeling.
2. Reach out to the person who you truly trust and ask to talk to them in a quiet and private space. Or if this feels too intense, try talking to the person when you’re walking together or driving in the car together. Sometimes less eye contact can make it easier for you to get the words out the first time around.
3. Once you’ve said your piece, give the person a moment to react. They may be surprised, upset, or concerned. Especially if they didn’t see this coming, they may need some time to process.
4. Provide education for them: We all carry around myths and stigmas about mental health. Just as you are learning about mental health, provide the person with resources so that they can learn more themselves.
5. Find normality together: Make time to do something you enjoy together so that the relationship doesn’t feel centered solely around mental health concerns. It might feel a little awkward after you’ve talked with the person but you should be intentional about getting back to activities you enjoy together so that you can feel comfortable once more.
Ultimately, that person you confide in should be there to support you. They shouldn’t make the conversation about them. Instead, the discussion should be about you, your feelings, and the next best steps to take if you need help. Again, if the person doesn’t have that response, I highly recommend seeking a professional who is concerned solely about your wellbeing.

What Do I Do If Someone Is Concerned About Me
What do you do when someone comes up to you and says, “Hey, do you have a minute to talk? I wanted to talk about something with you.” Your stomach probably drops in that moment. We all feel nervous in that moment. Your mind races. What could they possibly have to say? Are they going to embarrass me? Are they going to accuse me? Am I going to cry? Your mind may be brewing with all kinds of ideas and you may be filled with a sense of dread. But as painful as it is in that moment, hit the pause button. Take a deep breath. Give the person a chance and hear them out.

They may say any number of things. Maybe they have noticed that you’ve lost a lot of weight recently (or gained some weight). They are saying that you seem depressed or they have seen you really anxious lately. They might say that they saw scratches on your arms or they think you’re drinking too much. “I’m worried about you,” they say. Woah. That can feel like a lot to hear.
Maybe your secret is out. Or you may be in denial and what they are saying can’t possibly be true. Or, maybe they are generally “off” in their concern—that’s okay—it happens sometimes. It’s better to have a false alarm than a missed warning. What really matters is that you hear this message: “I am concerned because I care about you.” If this is a person who loves you, they will inevitably say this in their message to you. They know that it’s not easy to hear the words they are telling you. And it’s just as hard for them to say the words to you as it is for you to hear them. It takes a lot of courage to reach out to someone who you are worried about—you never know how someone will receive the message.
There are many ways that you can react to someone after they’ve said that they are concerned about you. You can lash out—you can accuse them, get angry with them, and even walk out on them. You can ignore them and say that there is nothing to be concerned about. You can push them away and get back at them. Sure, these are all things you can do. And frankly, it’s probably easier in the moment to have one of these responses than to respond in the most helpful way possible.

As much as it hurts, sometimes, your answer might be: “You’re right.” You can finally acknowledge that you are struggling with depression, or bulimia, or ADHD—whatever it might be. You can finally own that you are having a hard time and that’s okay. There is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not like you are intentionally doing this to yourself to get attention (and anyone who accuses you of that is lacking information about what it means to live with a mental disorder). The minute you can tell someone that you need help is a moment of herculean strength. It shows incredible maturity, grit, and wisdom. No one can fault you for it. If anything, people will admire your honesty.

A great example of this comes from the late Carrie Fisher (known her for role as Princess Leia in Star Wars). I love how she completely owned her experience with mental health. She was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and never denied it or minimized it a day in her life. She said, “I am mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that, I’m still surviving it, but bring it on.”

So while it’s never easy to admit that you need to help to someone, almost always you will be glad that you did. The second you step into your truth, you can begin getting the help that you need.

And if the person is genuinely wrong? If you truly do not have a disorder? That’s alright. No one ever knows the full story. Kindly say to them that you really appreciate their concern but you are doing okay. Let them know that if you did have a problem, you would tell them. It’s easy to be mad at someone for “assuming” something about you but rather than get defensive, see their decision to reach out as an example of their love for you.

If you want to learn more about what you read here, I encourage you to learn more about the Name Your Story mental health curriculum. You’ll learn more about the signs/symptoms of various disorders, how to get help for you or a friend, and how to engage in regular self-care strategies. Remember, you are enough and you matter.

Keep shining,
Lauren Cook

To learn more about Lauren Cook and her programs, visit campuspeak.com/lauren-cook.