But we’re showing you how to silence mental health stereotypes and normalize the convo in your family.
By Anissa Gabbara
Think about the last time you really went through it mentally. Did you hit up a family member for a venting sesh and get shut down with words like, “Just be strong,” “It’s not that serious,” or “It’ll pass?” How did that make you feel? Invalidated? Alone? Frustrated? How many times did you try again? Did you seek out the same person or go to someone else? Did you still get hit with the brush off?
Mental health stereotypes can influence others to expect you to chuck deuces to your problems and just keep it moving. And while that’d be pretty dope, it’s unrealistic. “I think there’s this idea … that life can happen, and we can just continue to be performative, but that can be really damaging over time for our mental health,” says Jessica Reed, a licensed professional counselor based in the Memphis, Tennessee area. To make matters worse, any mention of therapy might also be met with judgment. “I’ve heard people say, ‘I can’t believe that I’m having to come here,’ or they tell a family member and they’re like, ‘Why are you there? What’s happening so bad in your life?’”
After being written off so many times, you could succumb to the pressure of appearing “strong,” and the thought of seeking therapy may no longer feel like an option. “I think there are some generational patterns of coping that are typically passed down in some cultures that distort the way that we see suffering,” explains Reed. “For the Black community, in my experience, there is a direct link to seeking support being synonymous with not being able to handle things.”
And if that’s your experience, too, you may feel like you have to start frontin’ like everything’s cool to avoid being viewed as the “weak” person in the fam, and that ish is tough.
But your mental health matters. And you shouldn’t have to hide your struggle just because it’s the cultural norm or societal expectation. Break through the stigma by making it known that talking about mental health is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Peep these tips:
1. Show up for yourself, first.
You are your own best advocate. So, if it’s typical for your fam to push feelings to the sidelines and pretend like everything’s OK, give yourself permission to stop pretending. Sometimes, all it takes is one person to break the cycle. “I think it’s important for [teens] to remember that their views could be different [from] their family system, and that doesn’t make them wrong,” says Reed. Once you let your voice be heard within your own family, you’ll feel more comfortable taking up space in every aspect of your life.
2. Be unapologetically authentic.
If you really want to keep it 100 with the fam, be ready to drop some hard truths — like how you’ve been feeling extra down lately or how you just don’t enjoy things the way you used to. Tbh, they may not be ready to receive this info, but remember, your end goal of getting the help you need is more important. “Being honest about how [you] feel helps people understand what [you] may need,” says Reed. And even if your family doesn’t understand where you’re coming from, she continues, they can still be fully supportive, simply by being a sounding board.
3. Keep the convo going.
Let your loved ones know you want to keep the lines of communication open. The conversation of mental health doesn’t end after one or two discussions; it’s ongoing and you need it to be acknowledged on the regular. “[Make] it a part of daily conversations and check-ins [without] making it awkward or weird,” Reed suggests. “[Pair] it with things you enjoy and that you already do with your family. So, if you have game night every Friday, you can [begin] with a check-in on how the week went, a check-in on how everyone is feeling.”
4. Tell ‘em what you want (and need).
Confiding in someone about your personal struggles is a major move, so be clear about what you need from jump. “I think [it’s important to set] the expectations of trust [by saying] ‘I really need you to listen. I’m having a hard time,’” says Reed. She also suggests going to the person in your family who you think will be the most receptive to what you’re saying. Another tip? “Sometimes, speaking with the facts is enough if you’re not ready to add feelings or overthink it. [For example], ‘This happened on this day, and I’m still thinking about it,’ [or] ‘I had these symptoms come up, and I don’t know what to do with them.’”
5. Shift the narrative.
Inform the fam that seeking mental health treatment is as normal as going to the doctor for a broken arm. Make them aware of all the support available these days. Let them know you’re over the whole “suffering in silence” thing, and there’s way too much going on in the world to stay quiet. This is especially important when talking to people who may not be able to relate to managing several, ongoing stressors at once (e.g., social injustice, climate change, school shootings, etc.). Try to understand that when they were comin’ up, times were a little different, so their outlook on mental health may differ from yours. The beauty of all this? You have the opportunity to help them see things from a different POV, and in turn, you’re giving them the opportunity to be there for you.
P.S. When seeking emotional support, a parent may seem like an obvious go-to person. But tbh, all parents may not have the right tools and skills to hold that kind of space, explains Reed. “What I recommend is making sure that you have a trusted, safe adult. It could be an aunt, it could be a mentor, it can be a teacher, but I think it’s important that [you] feel like [you] have a sense of belonging in some realm, and realistically, sometimes it’s not a parent.”
If your parents can’t directly give you the support you need, Reed also suggests asking:
1) “Can we put someone else in place [who] can help me?”
2) “Can I set up a meeting with a school counselor?”
3) “Can you put me in a group with teens that experience similar things?”
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