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By: Jenise Harmon

Having a mental health issue can be very isolating. You may feel like no one understands the pain and despair you experience. Because of this, you might keep your condition to yourself, confiding in no one. This is not uncommon.

The stigma surrounding mental health doesn’t help. Many people are hesitant to open up about their struggles out of concern for being judged and thus go to great lengths to hide their conditions from coworkers, friends, even family members.

People with depression and anxiety, among other issues, often isolate because of lack of energy or because they are unsure how to get support. Being open about a mental health condition constitutes taking a risk, which can feel scary. Not everyone may be supportive, some people don’t know how to help, and some people in your life may choose to remain ignorant.

A mental health condition has nothing to do with what kind of person you are. It doesn’t mean you overreact to things, that you’re “just” feeling down, that you’re incompetent, that you’re weak, or that you’re “crazy.” Just as people who struggle with a physical health issue need and deserve support, people with a mental health issue need and deserve the same.

Contacting a therapist is a great step in the right direction, of course, as a professional is best positioned to help you understand the factors contributing to what you’re feeling and can point you toward helpful resources. He or she can’t replicate the compassion and empathy of close friends or family members, however.

So how can you find the support you need? Here are five considerations to help you get what you need when you need it most.

  • Learn as much as you can about your condition so you can explain to others what you experience. Many people’s only source of information about mental health is what is portrayed in the media, which more often than not is inaccurate or even demeaning. But if you can describe what it’s like to live with bipolar, for example, you can inform others and help them understand how they can best support you. By educating yourself, you can educate others.
  • Identify someone you think might be a support to you. Whether a friend or family member, this should be a person you trust, who has displayed compassionate tendencies in the past. Again, not everyone will understand, want to understand, or be able to help.
  • Think about what you hope to get out of the conversation you will have with this person. Are you looking for someone to vent to (“Work was so rough today that I spent 30 minutes in the bathroom crying”), or would you like help solving a problem (“I’m so anxious that I need help getting to the grocery store”)? Be specific about what you need and why you need it: “I’m feeling really stressed right now and could really use someone to talk to,” or, “My depression is making it hard for me to get out of bed each day and take care of my house and family. Do you have any suggestions?” Practice asking for what you need.
  • Recognize that some people may be better at supporting you than others. The first person you confide in may not understand. Keep sharing until you’ve found the person or people who can support you. If someone you asked for help cannot follow through, understand that it’s not something you’re doing wrong. They may be dealing with their own struggles and simply not have enough energy or wisdom to help you with yours.
  • Don’t rely on just one person. Try to build a support network, one person at a time. This way, if one friend or your partner can’t talk right away, there are others you can reach out to.

It should not go unacknowledged that, for some people, finding support is exceedingly difficult. People whose pool of family and trusted friends is limited or nonexistent may feel like they have no one to turn to. However, there is always someone who not only will listen but wants to listen—whether it’s a therapist, a pastor or church member, or someone who volunteers for a crisis line. There is always support. The key is summoning the strength to ask for it, something everyone must do at one time or another.

Mental health conditions are very common, so keep sharing; chances are, sooner or later someone you confide in will have dealt with their own struggles. You shouldn’t have to go it alone. Each time you are open about your condition, you decrease the stigma and ignorance surrounding mental health issues. Little by little, we can change the world.

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