Is it best to keep any mental health challenges to ourselves, be upfront with just a carefully chosen few or be open with a wider number of family, friends and colleagues?
It is a decision that is entirely personal and different people will respond in different ways to what we might have to say but if approached carefully we will hopefully be surprised by not only how supportive family and friends are, but we might also be surprised to discover that we are not alone with our anxieties.
It will take a lot of thought and perhaps courage but the following might be of assistance;
Write down your thoughts Since talking about anxiety may in itself cause anxiety try and get your thoughts together first. If you get anxious and upset while talking to your friends, you may not be able to get words out. Make a list of points you want to make, things you want to say, or ideas you want to address when you talk to your friends.
Make a list of people you want to tell
After writing down your thoughts start a new list. Carefully decide who you want to tell about your
anxiety disorder. Consider who the person is to you. Ask yourself why you want to tell this person
and are you comfortable with this person knowing.
Figure out if you believe the person you want to tell is supportive, how have they reacted when you’ve shared things with them before?
You also should think about whether you want help from the person or if you simply just want them to know.
Outline how much detail you want to give your friends Depending on who you tell, the amount of information you share with that person may change. You should consider how much about your disorder you feel comfortable sharing.
Gather resources for your friends Unless your friends know someone else with an anxiety disorder they may have no experience with it. They may also not have any knowledge about anxiety, anxiety disorders, panic disorders, or mental health issues. Put together some resources for them so they can learn more about it.
State the kind of help you need from your friends When you decide to tell your friends about your disorder, you should also decide if you want any help from them. If you do want help, you should decide beforehand the kind of help you need. Be as specific as possible about what you need from your friends. This helps them know what you expect from them so there is no miscommunication, which can cause more anxiety for you.
Remind yourself you are not bothering your friends One reason people may resist telling their friends and family about their anxiety disorder is because they feel they are bothering them with their problems. This is not true. Your friends care about you, and they are a wonderful source of support for you as you manage your disorder.
Tell your friends they can’t cure your anxiety Some friends and family may think that they can help you by trying to cure you of anxiety. They may try to understand the anxiety and think they know everything about the disorder, or make you do things to face your anxiety. These things won’t help, even if your friends mean well. Instead of trying to cure you, your friends should help support you. This means being patient with you, encouraging you and helping you.
Tell your friends not to bring up your anxiety all the time Sometimes, people may think they are being supportive by asking about your anxiety. If you and your friends are in certain situations, they may ask you how it is affecting your anxiety. Ask them not to do this. Why not tell your friends that you know they care and may be curious if you’re having a good day or a bad day but that sometimes bringing up your anxiety only makes it worse.
Ask your friends to be patient and understanding Anxiety can make you suddenly act differently than you did moments before. A triggering situation may cause your neurochemistry to change, and suddenly you feel hot, the room is really bright, and you are angry at everyone. Explain that this is a possibility to your friends. Tell them if this happens not to take it personally.
For Family, Friends & Colleagues
Conversely, if you're worried about someone try to get them to talk to you.
- Try asking open questions, like 'What happened about...', 'Tell me about...', 'How do you feel about...' Repeat back what they say to show you understand, and ask more questions.
- Focus on your friend's feelings instead of trying to solve the problem; it can be of more help and shows you care.
- Respect what they tell you. Sometimes it's easy to want to try and fix a person's problems, or give them advice but let them make their own decisions.
How to start a conversation with someone you’re concerned about?
- You might feel that you don't know how to help someone, because you don't know what to tell them or how to solve their problems.
- You don’t need to be an expert. In fact, sometimes people who think they have the answers to a problem are less helpful.
- Don’t forget that every person is different, so that what worked for one will not always work for another.
- Think about where and when to have the conversation before you start.
- Find a good time and place where the other person feels comfortable and has time to talk.
- Ask gentle questions and listen with care.
You might feel that you don't know how to help someone, because you don't know what to tell them, but you shouldn't tell them anything - telling doesn't help.
- The best way to help is to ask questions, the more open the better. That way you leave the other person in control. By asking questions, the person you are talking with finds his or her own answers.
- Questions that help someone talk through their problems are the most useful.
Check they know where to get help
- If someone has been feeling low for some time it is probably a good idea that they get some support.
- Useful questions might include; ‘Have you talked to anyone else about this?’, ‘Would you like to get some help?’, ‘Would you like me to come with you?’
- Respect what they tell you, don’t pressure them. If they don’t want help, don’t push them. Sometimes it’s easy to want to try and fix a person’s problems, or give them advice.
If you say the wrong thing, don’t panic
- There is no perfect way to handle a difficult conversation, so don’t be too hard on yourself if it didn’t go as well as you had hoped.
- If you feel able to, put things right by being honest.
- Show you understand