In our depression support group in Beijing, the new comers often express that they’ve never told anyone about their depression. In our last class, we tackled this “to tell or not to tell” issue. To better help equip you with the skills, in today’s class, we are going to look at “The How and The What” -Xiaojie
So you’ve decided to tell someone, finally. First of all, we’d like to congratulate you for seeking help, an important step on the journey towards healing. However, it can be nerve racking, especially as mental illness is still a very sensitive topic in China and the people around you might not be equipped to respond to you appropriately. To make the process easier and more effective, here are a few steps to take before the actual conversation.
We are going to use Marco’s story. By now, you may be familiar with Marco Brundelre, CandleX’s representative, who’s been through depression and is an advocate for it now. With his full support, we use his story, Love in the Time of the Universe-Marco’s Story with Depression, to guide you through each step.
Step 1: Consider How and What to Talk About
You can get the best support possible by planning the conversation.
Consider including three items:
1. “Process” talk
“Process” talk means “talking about talking,” rather than talking to share information. Prepare your listener for an important conversation by using “process” talk.
Here are some ways to begin a process talk: “I want to talk to you about something important. I’m not sure how to talk about it, though. Can you just listen to me and try to understand? I’m hoping I’ll feel better after talking about it with someone, but I need you to be patient.”
2. Specific problem
Concrete examples of what you mean by “mental illness.” Every case of mental illness is different. To get the best support possible, share one or two examples of what’s causing you stress: “I think something’s wrong because I can’t sleep more than a couple hours at night. It’s hurting my work and I feel out of control.” “I’ve started skipping classes sometimes. I’m worried I’ll stop leaving the apartment if I don’t get help.”
3. Suggestions for how loved ones can help
One of the scariest moments in the life of someone suffering from mental illness is the moment that an individual finally faces the reality that silence is no longer an option. The stigma surrounding mental illness is so great that even the best promises of relief, support rehabilitation are no match for the embarrassment, shame and rejection a sufferer might experience in their desperation for help. And while the possibility of that might actually be quite small, the fear can be completely debilitating, and ultimately irrational.
My story is quite different, atypical really. For me it was easy actually. But then again I didn’t really have a choice. When you hide your illness for 16 odd years, and then one fateful day your brother and good friend have to escort you to the hospital because an alcohol and rage infused episode almost ends your life, there’s really not many places you can hide. Pretty soon, your whole family knows about it, but not before a therapist you have never met, but that your sister (who you trust deeply) has recommended, has given you a direct instruction to tell your parents that they nearly lost a son and you were the idiot who was responsible.
Survival: The word that needs to be adopted when discussing revealing your mental suffering is not choice, but survival. You don’t have a choice. Daily suffering is too great, and suicide rates are much too high. This is not about pride or fear, but about enduring, accepting and maybe, just maybe, conquering a mental condition that is not your fault. And this begins with that first step, by opening up that first line of communication, a lifeline, to someone who can catch you when all hope is lost, and bring you back to the light when you might be consumed by the great abyss of suffering or even death.
And it gets easier. Nothing is worse than telling your parents. That was really, really bad. After that, it just made sense to tell a few close friends. After all, why not have a few more allies in the fight against mental illness? Then you tell more friends, because why the heck not? They’re valuable too. Why not let them know that you occasionally have bad days and you’re not trying on purpose to kill the mood. Then your boss, as work productivity becomes an issue. Then, even the public. Because you know what the conclusion eventually is? It’s not a big deal. The only way to end the stigma and fear around mental disorders is to understand what a natural problem it all is. And for those who don’t understand, criticize or judge? Get rid of them. You don’t have a choice. This is a matter of survival.
– Marco Brundelre
By telling the right people and suggesting concrete ways for loved ones to help, you can start building a strong social support network. At first, you might be afraid to talk about your experiences. But don’t give up on looking for support and encouragement from others. You’ll discover that many people want to help you. They will even be curious about your situation. You don’t have to share everything. Decide in advance what parts of your experience you’ll talk about and what parts you won’t. Stand by your decision. It’s perfectly understandable to answer a question with a statement like “I’d rather not talk about that right now.”
Once you have decided to tell somebody and prepared yourself for the conversation, the next steps are to think about whom you will tell and when you will tell them. In our next article we will lay out a process to help you figure out the “who and when”.