It can be nerve wrecking to know how to tell your family you have a mental illness. Mostly because every reaction can be different.
When I inform someone, that in my professional opinion, they have a mental disorder and which it is, the reaction is always different. Some clients are relieved that they can finally put a name to what has been seeming so wrong or abnormal for them. Other clients are angry, they deny that they are crazy and deny returning for treatment.
Lastly, some are concerned that they will not get better or be able to manage their symptoms and people will not love them. I frequently remind each, regardless of their reaction, that having support is important for the recovery process.
Normally individuals have concerns about informing their family about their mental disorder.
Two common concerns are:
The fear of the unknown is often the cause of excessive worry. To decrease this worry you could write a script of what you would like to say. One could also search online for techniques and further information regarding their mental disorders in preparations for questions. You could also write a letter or record a video to decrease anxiety and allow your family to analyze their emotions on their own before speaking with you.
Rejection: It is common to think that your family will not “see” you the same or “love” you the same. It is also common for the family to not understand what your mental disorder may be and that confusion can cause chaos. Your family may not believe you (or that may be your fear) but the problem will not go away just because you all decided not to speak about it. Luckily, there is the internet, ready for you to use it and give examples. Enlist the help of teachers, your counselor, spouse or the like to ease the process. It is also important to remember that no matter how your parents or family respond it should not stray you from speaking up for yourself.
There are many reasons or concerns one could have about informing their family about their mental disorder, I understand the emotion. It can be scary and that is why I want to provide ways to communicate this information to them and allow the situation to have a positive outcome.
- Research. Look online for as much information as you can about the mental disorder and be comfortable explaining it in layman’s terms. Hopefully the individual who diagnosed you will have gone over some of this information however due to time and initial reactions all questions cannot be answered. Ensure that the site you are using is reputable and factual so that you can properly relay the information.
- Do Not Mind Read. Almost everyone is guilty of mind reading and assuming we know what will happen in a scenario. While we can prepare ourselves based on previous behaviors or conversations we cannot assume to know what will happen. When we assume, we often assume the worse and enter the conversation ready to defend ourselves instead of properly responding. Your family could be just as relieved or scared as you are to know what is going on and how your illness will impact their lives.
- Develop a Plan. Determine and when you will inform your family of your diagnosis. It is important to conduct your own research and come to terms with your diagnosis yourself first and then informing your family. Will you tell them during dinner or breakfast? Is there a family member you want to tell first so that they could support you when telling everyone else? Do you want to verbally inform them or write a letter? Whichever option makes you the most comfortable is the best option.
- What Do You Need? Now that you know how you will inform them of your mental illness, what do you need from them? How can they effectively support you at this time and in the future? Would you like someone to attend appointments with you or ensure you are not alone throughout the week? Do you need check ins or to be left alone when your symptoms become persistent? Sometimes we do not know the answer to all of these questions or we do not know what we need. That is okay! Inform your family that this is just as new for you as it is for them and that you will tell them what you need as you go.
I hope that these tips help you prepare for the conversation you will need to have with your support system. Be sure to look up videos, research and use the template below if you need help!
For the past (day/week/month/year/__________), I have been feeling (unlike myself/sad/angry/anxious/ moody/agitated/lonely/hopeless/fearful/__________).
I have struggled with (changes in appetite/changes in weight/loss of interest in things I used to enjoy/ hearing things that were not there/seeing things that were not there/ feeling unsure if things are real or not real/ my brain playing tricks on me/ lack of energy/increased energy/ inability to concentrate/alcohol or drug use or abuse/self-harm/skipping meals/overeating/overwhelming focus on weight or appearance/feeling worthless/ uncontrollable thoughts/guilt/paranoia/nightmares/ bullying/not sleeping enough/ sleeping too much/risky sexual behavior/overwhelming sadness/losing friends/unhealthy friendships/unexplained anger or rage/isolation/ feeling detached from my body/feeling out of control/ thoughts of self-harm/cutting/thoughts of suicide/plans of suicide/abuse/sexual assault/death of a loved one/__________).
Telling you this makes me feel (nervous/anxious/hopeful/embarrassed/ empowered/pro-active/mature/self-conscious/guilty/__________), but I’m telling you this because (I’m worried about myself/it is impacting my schoolwork/it is impacting my friendships/I am afraid/I don’t want to feel like this/I don’t know what to do/I don’t have anyone else to talk to about this/I trust you/__________).
I went to a psychotherapist and learned that I have (mental disorder) and it is a relief that there is a name to what I have been experiencing. I hope you can support me by (checking in on me, researching more information, going to appointments with me, giving me time, etc).