We talk about mental health – ours, yours, and everyone’s – and why it’s so critical to normalize talking about it.
One of our listeners wrote about Episode 43: Thriving with ADHD, with Dr. Michelle Frank: “My sister asked to pass on to you both massive gratitude for the ADHD podcast which she’s been forwarding – it made a big difference to her with trying to navigate my nephew possibly having it and learning more (and only finding out now that it runs on her husband’s side).”
This makes us so happy, and we hope the episode helps people identify themselves or their loved ones and get treatment. Life outcomes are so much better for kids treated early in life for ADHD.
Let’s Talk About Mental Health
Normalizing talking about mental health helps people thrive and quite literally can save their lives. We wanted to share our own experiences, to do our part to normalize having mental health illnesses, learning to manage them, and talking about them.
We’re pretty sure that you or someone you know has experienced a mental illness, because that’s true of one in five adults in the U.S. One in 20 lives with a serious mental illness. And the pandemic has worsened many people’s mental health and increased the risk of serious consequences like substance abuse and suicidal thoughts.
A Pew Research Center survey from this February found that about one-fifth of U.S. adults are experiencing high levels of psychological distress, and about one-third of U.S. adults report at least occasional sleeplessness or anxiety in the past week.
A Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of data from the Census Bureau showed that:
- During the pandemic, around 40 percent of adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, four times higher than between January to June 2019
- Certain groups report higher rates of symptoms of mental illness during the pandemic – including young adults, parents and children (mothers in particular), essential workers, and communities of color
But even though so many of us experience mental health issues, stigma, shame, and misconceptions still persist in the way we talk about them.
Some of the things we say casually – like describing people as “crazy” or “psycho” or “a head case” and using terms like “I’m so OCD or ADD” for your idiosyncrasies or behaviors when you don’t really have those conditions – can contribute to misunderstandings about mental health.
Words matter when we talk about mental health conditions, and the general guidance from professionals is to use person-centered language. A media guide on the American Psychiatric Association (APA) website says:
“The words you use to write about mental health are very important, and can help reduce stigma around mental illness if carefully chosen. Focus on the person, not the condition. The basic concept is that the mental health condition (or physical or other condition) is only one aspect of a person’s life, not the defining characteristic.”
- You can say, “She has a mental illness,” “They deal with mental illness,” or “He has bipolar disorder” instead of “She is / They are mentally ill” or “He’s bipolar.”
- Instead of “committed suicide,” say “died by suicide” or “lost to suicide.” “Commit” can imply making a choice like committing a crime or a sin, whereas people with severe depression or chronic pain may feel like they do not have a choice.
Tips for supporting your mental health:
- Know that you are not alone. You are part of the human family and others have gone through – and are currently going through – this. It doesn’t make you weak or a failure.
- Everything is figureoutable. You can manage your mental health with the right supports for you. Really, you can – even if it seems hopeless. You have multiple paths forward even if you can’t see them yet, and if one doesn’t get you where you want, you can try another.
- Connect and talk about it. You can journal to start, but it’s important to talk with someone you trust and allow people to normalize what you’re going through, accept you just as you are right now. Talk to trusted loved ones. Look for online support groups through a Google or Facebook search. Find a therapist; search for one near you or seek out telehealth resources.
- Get to know yourself better. You can take a test similar to the Myers-Briggs at 16personalities.com. We love the Enneagram for its nuances, and it’s been super helpful to understand ourselves and our loved ones: what we need to thrive, and how we tend to act when happy or stressed. And the Internal Family Systems model (parts work) is also a great resource.
- Stock your toolbox. Read books, listen to podcasts, go to therapy, use meds, find the wellness team that’s right for you. Practice noticing emotions and feeling them, giving them time to process, without acting from them.
- Chart your progress. Focus on how far you’ve come. With depression, you tend to feel stuck, like things will be like this forever, and you’ll keep having the same problems. But you are evolving every day, even in the smallest of ways. You are a little higher on the learning spiral each time you encounter the same issue, because of your past experiences..
- Allow for wobble days. When you have a bad day, you don’t go back to square one. Progress and healing are not linear. Your brain and emotions will go on the fritz sometimes. Think of your mental health like a stock market graph to note how you’re evolving – look at the upward trends, not the tiny peaks and valleys.
Tips for helping support the mental health of your loved ones:
- Give people grace – especially during the pandemic! If they are off or delayed in finishing work assignments or replying to messages, consider that they might be having a hard time. Remember: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
- Work on your own emotional intelligence. Notice your emotions and those you perceive in others. Write or talk out your feelings. Improve your emotional vocabulary so you can identify emotions more specifically. Work on allowing uncomfortable feelings without pushing them away or needing to fix or find the good. Avoid saying “at least” to someone to find a silver lining – like if they’re having marriage problems, “At least you’re married…” minimizes their pain.
- Make it ok. Be a safe person for those you care about to talk to without judgment or worry that you’ll repeat what they tell you. It’s OK to be “awkward, brave, and kind,” as Brene Brown says. Show up with curiosity and compassion. Use self-disclosure – that is, sharing your own thoughts and experience (as much as comfortable) – to empathize and connect, never to one up or make it about you.
- Practice empathy vs. sympathy. Have strong boundaries, and know what’s yours to carry. Just allow the person to feel what they feel without solving their problem or changing their emotional state. You can support people just with your presence, physically stopping by or checking in remotely, even if you don’t know what to say.
- Check on your people. Ask, “How are you doing today?” and listen and show compassion. You don’t need to fix it, but responses like, “That’s so hard,” “I’m sorry,” “Sending love” can go a long way.
Here are a few other listener takeaways we want to highlight:
- If you or a loved one has a mental illness, you are not alone. There is so much non-judgmental, non-shaming support available – including right here. You can always reach out to us at podcast[at]semitogether.com to share or commiserate.
- Talk about your mental health with people you trust, and create space for others to do the same with you.
- Use compassionate language that centers the person, not their mental illness.
- Check out some of the great resources we link to below, like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, Makeitok.org, the Depresh Mode podcast, and Allie Brosh’s books: Hyperbole and a Half and Solutions and Other Problems.
Get In Touch
How are you managing your mental health, and how comfortable are you talking about it? How does it feel in your body when you’re having a hard time with a mental illness, and which tools and strategies do you use to cope? We will ask permission before sharing any listener feedback, and anonymously if you like. Email us at podcast[at]semitogether.com or send us a voice memo.
If you haven’t already, take a moment to subscribe to Semi-Together or leave us a rating or review. You can also support the podcast through Patreon at patreon.com/semitogether.
- In the U.S.: call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (24/7, free)
- Outside the U.S.: find resources through the International Association for Suicide Prevention
- NAMI: Mental Health by the Numbers
- Pew Research Center: Many Americans continue to experience mental health difficulties as pandemic enters second year
- Kaiser Family Foundation: The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use
- APA: Words Matter: Reporting on Mental Health Conditions
- Emotions wheel (Society 6 sells products printed with this — Melia has a throw pillow)
- Brené Brown on Empathy
- Depresh Mode with John Moe podcast
- The Hilarious World of Depression podcast
- Mental Health episode of Hillary Clinton’s podcast You and Me Both (with Audra McDonald, Jason Kander, and Allie Brosh)
- Semi-Together Episode 3: Have I Evolved? (learning spiral)
- The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression without Drugs by Stephen S. Ilardi, PhD
- Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns, M.D.
- Allie Brosh’s books: Hyperbole and a Half and Solutions and Other Problems
- Sounds Like Me My Life (So Far) in Song by Sara Bareilles
- Calm app (meditations, sleep stories)
- Online therapy options rated by VeryWellMind.com