Discussing your Mental Health with Family

Discussing your Mental Health with family: hard conversations, medical decisions, education and support

     One of the major challenges I have faced in my journey with mental health is learning how to have the conversation about managing my mental health with my family. While taking medicine for a physical illness often warrants little question, my decision to take anti-depressants and take a gap year between high school and university was apparently up for some serious conversations.  I remember sitting with my mom on the porch discussing how I wanted to defer for a year. I was sure I would not be successful if I attended University in the mental state, I was in. My mom was skeptical; anxiety and depression were not something she truly understood at that point. She was encouraging me to change my mind as she felt, “as your mother, I am sure I know you best.” As she said those words, something clicked, like one of those cheesy moments of enlightenment in a movie. It was the first moment that I was sure my parents were wrong, because although they have nothing but my best interests in mind, I am my own person and who can know yourself better than you can. 

     Over the years both of my parents have come to appreciate the decisions I made for my mental health and are now two of my biggest advocates. I have heard my mother consistently defend my decisions to friends and family and I have learned that although family may become defensive over your decisions, it is truly due to a lack of understanding and a desire to protect you. All you can hope to do is further educate them and make sure you make choices that support what you need.

How to have the conversation

Here are a couple tips for how to have those tough conversations about your mental health:

  • If face to face is too intimidating don’t be afraid to start with a text or letter – it could range from organizing a time to meet, to letting them know you have some things on your mind that you need to discuss, or even a letter regarding your feelings, health, and any other concerns you wish to address.
  • Don’t wait for the perfect time – it won’t ever feel like the perfect moment, so organize it yourself or take the leap, it will feel good to get it off your chest.
  • Expect questions – it will be normal for your family to have some questions, especially if they feel blindsided or lack some understanding.
  • Have some resources you can share – bring articles, info graphs, pamphlets, and really any sort of information that could help educate them on what you are going through and show that you are serious about your mental health.
  • It could be uncomfortable or emotional – that’s normal! It is okay if you feel choked up or awkward. It can be tough to have these conversations, and you are taking the first step.
  • You may not get the response you want – this is unfortunately something to be prepared for, especially if you parents don’t fully understand. Again, this is your health and don’t feel defeated if they are not on the same page. It is not your fault by any means.
  • For more great tips, check out Talking About your Mental Health.

You know you best

 Although we look to our families for guidance and support it is important to remember that you are the keeper of your own body and mind. You have a duty to yourself to take care of your wellbeing and that can be a very difficult feat when dealing with mental health. For many of our parents’ generations, mental health is still a topic that isn’t understood and that can lead to hard conversations, disagreements, and tension. It can also be a wonderful opportunity to educate and learn from one another as you progress in those conversations. Still, the most important thing I could express to you is that you know you best. You have the ability to make medical choices for yourself, whether that be counselling, medication, or any other course that helps you in your mental health journey. Although in a perfect world, we would have the support of our loved ones, that is not always the case and it is important to remember that their misunderstanding is not your fault. Be kind to yourself, trust yourself, and remember you know you best.

Check out some of our team members experiences!

 "I never came out and told my parents I was struggling with my mental health, so I was navigating it on my own, but something health-related happened to me (unrelated to mental health) and I ended up telling my mom that I was prescribed antidepressants. She then opened up to me about how she went through depression when she was younger and her experiences with therapy and how she decided not to go through with medication, so she spoke to me about other options, but ultimately left the decision up to me. It was eye opening to hear my mom’s struggles with mental health that she brought up, and that she still sometimes struggles to this day. Although I didn’t really talk to her about the details of my thoughts and feelings, I am now able to tell her I’m going to a counselling appointment, or my doctor set me up with this clinic etc. and not have to hide it anymore, so it really helped in that sense. She’s also noticed when I’m off and is always reminding me to take my medication too!" - Mia

"When I first discussed my mental health with my parents, I think they were confused and didn’t know how to respond, they were frustrated with me because I couldn’t tell them what was going on. That was kind of tough because it was hard enough telling them that I was struggling with mental health. Over time they have become more supportive and understanding. My parents are the only ones who know what is going on, I haven’t told anyone else because I am still a little scared of what their reactions would be given the stigma around mental health." - Tay 

"My parent are immigrants from Egypt and were never exposed to the concept of mental health. My dad still doesn’t understand it, he is a firm believer in “don’t act on your emotions.” He claims that you can control your emotions by depending more on your brain than your feelings, which tends to be the mindset of most middle eastern men. My mom didn’t learn about mental health until she went back to school to study child development about 5 years ago. Because of that, I always kept any negative thoughts or feelings to myself and just tried to bury it un a dark place. At the time, I thought it was completely normal and that everyone was like that. It wasn’t until first year of university that I realized it wasn’t. I wouldn’t talk to new people; I would hide in my room and skip classes and just spend as much time in bed as I could until I finally sought help on my own. Telling my parents was extremely difficult, my mom worries very easily, so at the beginning she blamed herself. She is still trying to figure out to support me, but I really appreciate her effort and it has actually bettered our relationship. My dad on the other hand, still doesn’t completely understand. He reacted by saying I just need to use my head and stop letting my emotions control my life and he is not understanding that locking these bad thoughts away doesn’t work for me. He sometimes talks about how he misses his “perfect kid,” but I never was perfect, I was just good at hiding it, and it got to a point where it was too tiring to try and act like everything was okay, Luckily, they were both supportive of me seeing a therapist, but it definitely took a while to get to that point." - Sarah 

"My mom had anxiety her entire life and she didn’t do anything to manage it until after I had left for university. Because of this we never really talked about mental health growing up, she didn’t know how to talk about it because she didn’t grow up in a time when it was something that was talked about. Eventually when she started treating her anxiety, she because very open with me about it. I think part of it was because once I moved out we became a lot closer as we didn’t get along very well when I loved at home and I was studying science and pharmacy so she started coming to me with questions about different medications she was trying and what to do if she missed a dose etc. Because she was so open with me once she got help and found something that worked for her anxiety it allowed me to come to terms with the fact that I was struggling with the same thing. We had lots of conversations about anxiety, how it affects your perception of events and how it affects your relationships. As I got more comfortable talking about her anxiety, I was able to articulate and better understand what I was going through and realized that I wasn’t “intense,” “overemotional,” or “crazy.” I actually had anxiety and that was changing how I experienced life.  Eventually I hit a low where my anxiety was so bad, I could barely go to work at a job I loved, and I was starting to experience depression as well. I broke down to my mom and asked her for help and she encouraged me to go to my family doctor who then suggested counselling. My mom was once of my main confidants during that time and when I was still struggling a year later, she was the one who encouraged me to try medication. I don’t think I would have been able to get past my own biases and stigmas about medication had it not been for her and the difference I had seen the medication make in her life. When I began medication, she supported me and was always a text away when I needed to talk about side effects and how weird it felt. I don’t know how I would have gotten through that adjustment had it not been for her openness and willingness to talk to me about her journey at the beginning. The difference she made in my journey with mental health is the sole reason why I continue to be brutally honest about my mental health and continue to talk about being on medication without any shame." - Olivia 

Erin Murray, Calgary AB

Erin is a dog lover, coffee addict, and aspiring poet with her first book on the way. She is a mental health advocate, often sharing her journey with others to help remove the stigma placed on mental health. Instagram: @erinmichellemur

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