The holiday season can bring us so much cheer and emotional wealth, including the opportunity to reunite with family and loved ones. As we adjust to a new routine and, at times, a new environment around the holidays, it can also be difficult to navigate the mental health challenges we may be facing or bringing back home with us. These mental health conversations with family can often be met with silence, discomfort, or even misunderstanding. However, sharing our mental health struggles with our families is a crucial step towards building understanding, empathy, and a support system. Mental health is an ongoing aspect of life and doesn’t stop once we arrive home for the holidays, so understanding how to handle these conversations with family is important to master.
There are many reasons why these conversations with family surrounding mental health can prove to be complicated. For instance, the generational differences between family members can cause stigma around discussions of this nature, making it difficult for people to voice their struggles. This can cause barriers to the understanding of mental health as a whole, as many misconceptions about the topic can be misconstrued in harmful ways. Additionally, many report not wanting to worry parents, siblings, and other family members about their conditions or issues. It’s important to note your well-being deserves attention and should not be cause for concern. To avoid complications and misunderstandings, strategies can be in place to pave the way for healthy and effective conversations about these topics with family members and loved ones.
Start With the Basics: Education
Explaining what mental health is and what it means to you can help your loved ones help you better deal with your situation. Not everyone is familiar with mental health conditions or the challenges they entail. Take the opportunity to educate your family about mental health, explaining that it’s a spectrum and that many people experience mental health concerns at some point in their lives. Share information about your specific condition, if applicable, helping your family better understand what you’re uniquely experiencing.
Communicate Your Needs Explicitly
Letting family members know the kind of guidance you’d like from them in terms of your mental health is critical to creating the support system you need. This can set the tone for how involved you’d like them to be in your journey, giving them ample opportunities to help when needed. Let your family know what kind of involvement you need. Clearly communicate your needs, whether it’s a listening ear, encouragement, or assistance in seeking professional help. This not only guides your family on how to support you but also reinforces the idea that mental health is a shared concern.
Encourage Open Conversations About Mental Health
Allowing for not only your sentiments but also questions from loved ones fosters mutual understanding and helps dispel lingering myths or misconceptions. This conversation is about creating a shared understanding and requires each side to listen actively and respond thoughtfully. Encourage your family to ask anything they may be curious about and answer honestly. This dialogue can result in an environment where they can keep in touch and feel comfortable participating in this conversation.
Understanding and acceptance may not happen overnight. Be patient with your family, and be open to ongoing conversations. Mental health is a journey, and having periodic check-ins with your family can strengthen your support system. Of course, everyone’s family dynamic is different, but in any relationship, it is essential to offer moments of honest communication and mutual understanding. At the end of the day, your loved ones want what’s best for you, and by opening up these conversations, you can find a vital source of strength throughout your mental health journey.