Talking to a loved one about their mental health struggles can be difficult. Sometime we avoid the conversation all together, because we are afraid we will make the situation worse. And other times we want to help so much, that we might be overbearing!
Despite these fears, it is important to speak to our loved ones about mental health. And if you have a mutually trustworthy relationship with someone, then starting a discussion about their experiences may be just what they need.
Last week we looked at 4 steps to support someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. This week, we are diving into the ‘how to’ of talking about it (and other mental health conditions) with your loved one.
So long as you stick to these simple rules, you’ll be able to engage in a healthy, productive conversation with your loved ones not just about OCD, but also about mental health in general.
It can be tempting to offer suggestions and courses of action to our loved ones when discussing their disorder. ‘You’re having problems with X? I’ve heard Y is the BEST for that, you should do Y!’
The chances are, your loved one is well aware of Y. They may have even tried Y. They’ve probably tried a lot of things. The point of this conversation though isn’t to push your loved one into trying yet another solution to their problem, but rather just listening with intent and empathy to the words they are saying.
If your loved one asks for advice, then by all means offer it to them, remembering not to be offended if they don’t act on the advice.
If they aren’t asking for advice, and you’re not sure whether or not to give it, simply ask them: ‘Something has come to mind that may help you with your situation. Are you open to hearing it? No pressure if not, I’m sure you’ve been trying different things already. I’m here to listen.’
Know when to take a step back
These are difficult conversations we’re talking about having. Sometimes, things might get a bit heated, and that’s okay, it’s to be expected. If you feel like you or your loved one is becoming distressed, it’s okay to take a break and revisit the conversation at a later time when everyone involved is emotionally prepared and ready.
We’re trying to foster a healthy, productive environment for this conversation. If anyone involved becomes uncomfortable or is no longer willing to be open, then nothing productive can come from the conversation, so there is little point in continuing.
If this happens and you need to end the conversation prematurely, try to keep a level head. If there has been yelling, bring the tone back down by softening the voice and lowering the volume. This can be done effectively by taking a deep breath before continuing to speak. Remind your loved one that you are here for them when they are ready to reengage in the conversation. Honour them by giving them the space that they may need at the moment.
Remember to also honour your own feelings and emotions.
If you need a moment, communicate that with your loved one. Don’t place blame anywhere for things getting heated. At the end of the day, we all just want the best for our loved ones, that’s why things get heated in the first place. We want so badly for the person we’re speaking with to understand or agree or come to a certain conclusion, and when that doesn’t happen, it can be frustrating because you want them to be happier and healthier.
If you are taking a break from the conversation, try your best to end things in a way that shows your loved one that you are open to restarting the conversation when they are ready. End things on a light note. We can’t storm off or just stop talking; this will make both people involved feel alone and misunderstood, which we don’t want.
Simply suggest a break so that the conversation can be as productive and as helpful as possible to the OCD sufferer sharing.
Mirror the vibe
Some of us use laughing as a coping mechanism, and when our friends know this, they feel comfortable joining in with the giggles. If your loved one is laughing about their disorder, and you know them well enough to know that they won’t be offended if you join them, then there’s nothing wrong with mirroring that energy. It may even help the person feel more comfortable about the conversation.
However, if your loved one isn’t laughing, then neither should you. Identify how your loved one may be feeling in the moment and honour those emotions. If they are visibly sad or anxious, respond appropriately to those emotions.
- Respect boundaries
This goes for any conversation, but when it comes to discussing topics like mental health, specifically OCD, respect the boundaries that people have set or are making apparent.
‘I actually don’t feel comfortable talking about this anymore’ can be responded with something along the lines of ‘I understand. I’m here whenever you would like to restart this conversation, or if you would like to talk about anything else.’
‘I don’t want to continue this conversation if we have to talk about X’ can be responded to with ‘No problem, I’m here if you ever want to talk about X. How do you feel talking about Y?’
If we start to push people into talking about things they aren’t comfortable opening up about, this can push them further away and cause them to not want to talk about anything.
Respecting boundaries goes both ways in any conversations. Make your boundaries clear from the beginning, and ask the person you’re speaking with what their boundaries are to avoid crossing them.
Discussions around mental health are difficult.
The fact that your reading this means that you are willing to approach the conversation as sensitively as possible. Being there for your loved one with OCD is important, and wonderful. So long as they know they are not alone and can be open with you about their struggles, that’s the best anyone can ask for.
Is your loved one showing obsessive compulsive tendencies? Do you think or act on certain things compulsively, and find they are intruding on your quality of life? Here’s what you need to do: Contact Colleen on 0434 337 245 or Duncan on 0434 331 243 for a FREE 10 minute consultation on how we can best help you or book online now
Gabie Lazareff is a certified health coach, yoga teacher and freelance nutrition & wellness writer. After years of navigating the messy waters of mental health, her mission is to share her experiences and advice with others.