We often see messages encouraging us to talk about our mental health, to tell others how we’re feeling. Well-meaning messages often suggest that we reach out for help and list phone numbers that we can ring if we’re struggling.
These messages are all fantastic in principle. The problem is that sometimes, no matter how much we want to, talking about our mental health can feel really difficult. Whichever stage we’re at in our mental health journey – whether it’s the first time we’re speaking openly about our feelings or we’ve been talking about them for years, there are times when the words just won’t come out.
We Don’t Know Who To Talk To
For some of us, we might desperately want to talk about our feelings but feel as though we have nobody we can speak to about them. We might feel unable to speak to our friends or family members.
There are lots of different treatment options for depression. Our GP is always a great first point of contact and if we go to the surgery and don’t ‘click’ with one GP, we could always ask to see a different GP the next time, or even change the surgery we are registered with. There are lots of voluntary organisations we can get support from. Some charities have specific groups of people they support, such as CALM, but others, such as Samaritans, support anyone who needs them.
In many areas we can self-refer to ‘Improving Access To Psychological Therapies’ (IAPT). This is part of the mental health team.
If we have the money, we might be able to pay for a private counsellor or therapist. Some therapists offer a sliding scale when it comes to the cost of their sessions which can help them to be more affordable for those of us with less money available.
We might find that our employers or education provider offer some counselling. Our HR department or manager if we’re in work, student support centre if we’re in university, or form tutor if we’re in school should know about the types of support available to us.
If we are struggling to work with our mental health team or GP and want some support to manage that situation, then we can contact our local ‘Patient Advice and Liaison Service’ (PALS) who can help us with any issue we might have.
We Don’t Always Know How We Feel
It’s all well and good to be encouraged to talk about our feelings. But how do we do that if we don’t know how we feel?
It’s not always easy to work out our feelings and emotions. Sometimes we will feel nothing at all – depression can leave us feeling numb. At other times, we will have all sorts of feelings or emotions but we won’t be able to identify what they are.
We might be feeling ‘chaotic’, ‘overwhelmed’, ‘black’, ‘lacking in headspace’, ‘like a bouncy ball being repeatedly thrown against a wall’ or just ‘really not good’. None of these are things that we would probably class as an emotion, but they’re still feelings.
When we’re talking about how we feel, we don’t have to use the ‘right’ words. There are no such things as ‘right’ words when it comes to describing how we feel.
Trying to identify exact emotions can often create a block between what’s in our head and the outside world – but we don’t have to talk about specific emotions when discussing how we feel, if we feel ‘grey’ or ‘rubbish’, then we can just share that. These things might not be emotions but they still explain how we feel.
We Don’t Have To Use Words
If we have a picture in our mind then we could try to describe or draw it out. There might be a song, a quote, or a piece of writing we know that we really relate to – we could share that to demonstrate how we feel.
Our own words aren’t always necessary. Words we read, music or art are all valid ways of sharing what we’re experiencing. We can communicate our feelings in whichever way we find easiest.
There are times when our mind goes blank. When we have absolutely no words, no thoughts, no feelings at all. We’re a whole lot of ‘nothing’.
For some of us, when we’re in high distress we might experience an inability to talk at all. Some people live with selective mutism, others may develop catatonic depression and have an inability to speak as part of that.
Others may be able to talk a little bit but have nothing at all to say.
It can be helpful to reach out when we’re experiencing things like this – even if we do so in writing, images, or communication cards. We are not the only ones to have ever experienced difficulty speaking.
Trusting A Stranger
If we begin to use mental health services, or even go and see our GP, it’s likely that we won’t know the person we see before our first appointment. At our first appointment we’re often asked the reason why we’re there, and then we discuss the things that have been going on for us lately.
This can be really difficult! It’s often hard enough talking about our feelings with our loved ones, and though some of us may prefer to speak to someone unrelated to us, meeting someone for the first time and divulging a lot of personal information to them can be incredibly difficult.
It can take a long time to build up a trusting relationship with someone. Sometimes, we might find it easier to ask someone who knows us well to accompany us to our first few appointments so that they can reassure and advocate for us. If we’re worried that we will struggle to talk, we could find it helpful to write down what we want the professional to know before we meet them.
Finding it hard to talk to professionals isn’t a unique position to be in. We will not be the first or last person to find it difficult, but hopefully it should get easier over time.
We’re Worried About People’s Reactions
Whether we’re new to talking about our feelings or we’re well practised in discussing how we feel, we might worry about the other person’s reaction to the things we say to them.
We could worry that they will get upset, be offended, force us to go into hospital, tell our manager, make us lose our job, force us to go on sick leave, tell us that we’re not safe to look after our children, or be angry at us.
Unfortunately, we can’t always predict or control other people’s reactions and not everyone is as understanding as we might like them to be. If we are worried about them responding in any of these ways, then we could try to speak to them about that before we tell them what’s on our mind. We might not be ready to talk to them about certain things and need to spend more time building up a relationship with them.
People might be worried about us or scared for us. Sometimes we won’t be well enough to make decisions about our life and the person we are speaking to might have to take certain actions to keep us safe. Those who know us well or who are helping us in a professional capacity will usually have our best interests at heart, and hopefully the better we know them, the more we’ll feel able to talk to them about without worrying about their reaction.
We Don’t Want To Be Treated Any Differently
Sometimes we don’t want to tell people what’s going on for us because we don’t want them to treat us differently. We might be worried that they’ll pity us, be overly nice towards us, or give us preferential treatment. On the other hand, we could be worried that they won’t trust us, won’t want to be alone with us, and won’t want to invite us to things. If we’re concerned about reactions like these then we might want to tell the person ‘smaller’ things first to test the waters before we build up to telling them the ‘bigger’ stuff. If we’ve told a person something and they’re treating us in a way that we’re uncomfortable with then we can always talk to them about it, or if it’s someone like our manager then we could speak to our HR department about it.
We Don’t Want People To Worry
Those who love us will always worry about us. Whether they’re worried about us getting home safely, worried about us going on nights out, or worried about us due to our health, there’s always going to be something for them to worry about. Worry can be part of them caring about us.
Not wanting to worry those close to us is really common when trying to talk to our loved ones about our feelings. If we’re getting support and help from elsewhere, then telling them about that can help to reassure them. We could also share information on how best to support someone with them, so they feel less alone in their worry. Some of us might want to encourage them to get support, too, which they could receive via their own GP or local carers centre.
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