Mental health is a difficult topic to start a conversation about, but when the conversation is focused on you - it’s even tougher!
I was diagnosed with clinical depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and anorexia in 2011. During the past 5 years, my experiences with mental illness have led me to and through many interesting situations.
I’ve learned to react in different ways when it comes to friends, family, and coworkers. Which is something that didn’t occur to me as something I would need to adjust to, until after experiencing such unique reactions to the same statements.
Everyone has a different dynamic when it comes to family, making it a bit harder to direct the conversations you will have - so that is a topic I will cover on a later date.
Today I am going to focus on the interaction between you and your coworkers.
I have always been a very self-contained person. I grew up as someone who left no trace of what was going on inside my head and I never asked for help when I felt lost.
It wasn’t until recent years (close to a year after I was hospitalized for anorexia) that I learned to talk about myself. Not in a cocky, “look at me” way, but in a way to let others know who and what they were dealing with before plunging into something they were going to regret a week later.
Now, it is very uncommon for me to hold a conversation with someone new without mentioning a snippet of what events occurred in my past. This doesn’t mean I introduce myself in this manner: “Hi! I’m Marissa, I’m a recovered anorexic, I was in a mentally abusive relationship, and I’ve been institutionalized in a mental hospital! Oh and I love coffee and dogs! What’s your name??” But by the end of a meaningful conversation with someone new - I do leave them with something to think about.
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In regards to coworkers, the formula I follow to holding a direct conversation about my mental health, goes a little something like this:
Start a small conversation (maybe about a current project at work that’s interesting) » branch into my hobbies » dip my toes in the water with how those hobbies relate to my diagnosis and what my diagnosis actually is » share my story (only if they want more information)
There is always the possibility, after you state your diagnosis, that they might be overwhelmed with this new information. If so, they will be content with what you already provided them.
More times than not, people will be intrigued by what you are saying and will want to know more; which is where your story comes into play.
This is also when their interest can morph into concern. You need to remind them that YOU were the one who chose to share this information. You chose to inform them about your mental illness because you want them to be educated and informed on what makes you who you are.
Your mental illness isn’t a character flaw - which some people may think upon first hearing your diagnosis. Remind them that it isn’t. Yes, it is a part of you, but it does NOT define you.
Having mental illness is often seen in a negative light, due to the stigma that surrounds the topic. In order to end this seemingly universal stigma, you have to confront and address it. Shut down any bit of stigma that arises.
YOU are the face of mental illness, not that person in a 1950’s horror movie immobile in a straight jacket.
It takes effort to adjust society’s view on this topic and stigma is a tough thing to erase, but by sharing your story with more and more people, you will start to become the accurate face of mental illness.