Conversations about mental health are reaching wider audiences than ever before. That's a good thing; a very good thing, in fact. That said, as dialogue about mental health reaches an ever-wider demographic, it's important to consider what is being shared. Any content posted about mental health has the ability to polarize; to draw people in and educate them, or repel and confuse them.
I've spent considerable time sharing my mental health journey (and reading the journeys of others), and over time I've collected a few wishes and preferences that I think are worth sharing. Disclaimer: I'm not suggesting that anything outside of my list is useless, but I've also collected some observations on what kinds of content really move people along in their pathway to healing and empathy, and I think they're worth expressing. So, with that caveat in mind, here are my top 3 things that I wish people would share when they tell their mental health story:
Talk about how to get through the day-to-day stuff
There are plenty of stories out there about how starting medication, going to therapy, or interviewing for a job; but what about the little things? What about how you manage an intrusive thought in the middle of a family dinner? What about the steps and strategies you're using to be able to lock the door twice before going out instead of seven times? (#truestory) What kinds of thoughts and reminders do you run through when you see your child taking a healthy risk and you don't want your intrusive thoughts to interfere with their development? These are the kinds of smaller but impactful choices that have to be made on a day-to-day basis. They're the aggregate, the little things that make a big difference. It's not as if we can share the minutiae of every decision we make, but paying attention to the small things might just make a big difference to someone.
Share the logistics of treatment, and how to manage them
I can only speak for my home country of Canada and the province of Ontario, but I'll tell you right now - therapy ain't cheap. Not only that, but it often involves taking time away from work and additional hours spent journalling or reading at home. When you're balancing all of that with family life, things can get tricky, and it's important to share how things actually look in terms of time, money and energy. I've said this in my book, and I'll say it here as well - therapy and family demand the same things. Each need time, money, attention, effort and emotional energy. None of us have unlimited supplies of any of those things. The more often we share how to allocate them and offer specific details about the sacrifices that need to be made, the better equipped others will be to make similar arrangements in their own lives.
Share the perspectives of your partner (and/or family members)
Therapy affects the entire family, but it's also an intensely personal process. If you're not careful, family members can feel isolated and overwhelmed by both the changes you're going through, and the work that it takes to get there. Unfortunately, I know this from personal experience. When I look back on my therapy journey, I can see how I was working hard to get my mental health symptoms under control, and I'm proud of myself for working as hard as I did. That said, I've also learned, through time and conversation, how much emotional and physical energy it took for my wife to support me during that process. Therapy was a lot of work for me, but it was also a lot of work for my wife and kids. Those perspectives need to be heard. Partners and family members need to be given the space and comfort to voice their frustrations and their needs. More (and perhaps most) importantly, they need someone to connect with to share their perspectives outside of the home. They need to vent and discuss strategies with someone who isn't their partner or family member, no different than when a family member is undergoing any kind of significant change. This is a lesson that I only learned retroactively, and I wish I had been more aware of it when I was in my most intensive treatment days.
So, there you have it. Three pearls of somewhat logical wisdom collected from several years of reading, writing and thinking about mental health and parenting. If any of these ideas resonate with you and you want to know more about them, consider picking up my book or reaching through my contact page. As I alway say - the more conversations, the better...especially when those conversations create real value for real people.