Good relationships are fundamental to our mental health and wellbeing – that’s the important message of Mental Health Awareness Week, 2016, which launched on 16 May.
Being able to talk to your partner, family or friends about how stress, anxiety and other mental health conditions are impacting on the quality of your sleep is a positive step towards regaining control over your symptoms.
If you regularly share a bed with your partner, or want to enjoy fun, social times which may involve sleeping away from home, it’s important to be able to talk about how you feel so you can receive the love and support of those who care about you.
Here’s how you can start the conversation in a healthy, productive way:
- Choose the right person to tell: Does the person gossip or spread rumours? Do they handle their own emotions well? Are they having a hard time too? Do you find them to be judgmental or condescending? People who fit any of the above descriptors may not be the right person to tell – even if it’s a family member. Instead, choose someone who is discreet, trustworthy, reliable and non-judgemental.
- Find your comfort zone: One in four people will experience a mental health problem in the UK each year, yet it can still be really difficult to talk about it. What you feel comfortable divulging may change depending on who you are speaking to. It could be that you feel happier focussing on symptoms (e.g. “Sometimes at night-time, I get palpitations and it feels like I can’t breathe”) rather than labelling your condition (e.g. “I have anxiety disorder”). How much you choose to share is your decision; the more honest you feel you can be, the more likely it is that you will get the right level of support.
- Timing is key: Plan to have the conversation when you feel safe, secure and relaxed (preferably not near to bedtime if that triggers some of your symptoms). Make sure you will have plenty of time to talk at leisure; not when you’re about to rush off on the school run, or tired after a long day at work. Turn off the TV or radio and put your mobile phones on silent. Focus on quality time with no distractions.
- Do your homework: It is often upsetting to find out someone we love is unwell or not feeling their best self. Be prepared that the person you are confiding in may have questions about why you feel the way you do – some of which you might not be able to answer. Look up sources of support and information that you can signpost them to, where they can find out more about your condition. Mind’s Guide to Coping for Carers is a great place to start.
- Practical steps: When someone we love is having a hard time, it’s natural to want to help. Think about what practical steps you want your partner, family or friends to take to support you towards living life well. Examples could be helping you to cut back on caffeinated drinks before bedtime, running you a hot bath, looking after your children to give you a much-needed lie-in or supporting you at a doctor’s appointment, if you feel you need to speak with a healthcare professional.
- Write it down: Put everything you plan to say down on paper and practice the conversation out loud. Think about how you may handle the situation if the person starts to cry or gets angry. This is a natural response and will not mean you have done anything wrong. It may be that they need to take time to process what you have told them. A good strategy, therefore, is to identify a second person close to you that you also feel you can talk with.
- Turn to the professionals: There are lots of groups and charities that have trained professionals who you can speak to if you need support from outside your close circle, or if your chat with your partner, family and friends doesn’t go to plan. These include the Mind Infoline (0300 123 393), Rethink Mental Illness Advice Line (0300 5000 927), Saneline (0845 767 8000) or the Samaritans (116 123).
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