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If You Love Them, Have the Conversations

This month, we have focused on relationships, both with yourself and with others, and the impact on those relationships that trauma or PTSD can have. One of the things I always advise is having those tough conversations with the people you love, whether you are the one suffering, or you care about someone who is suffering.

There is still a stigma attached to mental illness in this country. In 2019, there was an estimated 51.5 million adults in the United States suffering from mental illness, according to SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). Women are 10% more likely to suffer than men. The stats say that one in six people are dealing with some kind of mental illness.

One in six. Think about your group of friends, or the people sitting in the restaurant, or just the people ahead of you in the grocery line. One-sixth of those people are struggling mentally. Yet, we still don’t talk about those struggles enough, nor do we make people feel like it’s okay to say they are struggling.

If you are the one who is battling any kind of mental or other invisible illness, you have to speak up and open the conversational doors. Depending on who you are talking to (a partner, a friend, or a boss), you may have a slightly different conversation. You can start by simply saying, “I want to talk to you about something important, and all I need you to do is listen.”

Once you have their attention, you can be a little more specific about your struggles like, “I’m having trouble getting out of bed every day” or “I’m anxious every time I walk into a room.” Follow that with concrete examples of how the other person can help you. “Can you help me find a doctor to talk to?” or “Can you just check on me more often and make sure I’m okay?” That empowers the other person, who often has no idea what to do or how to support you.

If the roles are reversed, use care and patience when talking to your loved one. “I notice you seem to be struggling. I just want you to know I’m here to listen. I’ll support you however you need me to.” Keep it simple and not prying, and leave the door open for them to walk through when they feel ready. Don’t feel hurt if the person doesn’t open up; discussing mental illness can be a scary event for anyone. Just be there for them. That alone says so much.

The point is to just start the conversation. You won’t be able to solve the problem overnight, but opening the door will shine a light on something that has been kept in the shadows for too long.

I struggled to talk to the people I loved about what I was going through after the traumatic event I went through, but I found that once I began talking, I felt lighter. Now my entire story is out in print in my book You’ve Got Some Nerve, because I want other people to know that a.) anyone can go through trauma and invisible illness and b.) that it’s totally okay to talk about it. I want to have a conversation with you and anyone else who knows someone who is struggling with PTSD, invisible illness, or trauma.

Let’s start talking—because that’s the way we can all make a true difference.

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