IFAQ: Infrequently Asked Questions
When thinking about mental health is front and center, feelings can be delicate and how to proceed can be unclear. There can and will be times when you’re close to someone in hard place mental health wise but you need to advocate for yourself. You don’t want to add to the load being carried by your friend, co-worker, or family member–but remember you also have to take care of yourself.
So if your friend or loved one is doing something that affects you negatively–if they’re irritable and shout at you or if they don’t seem to be picking up on how uncomfortable a certain conversation is becoming for others, just as a pair of examples–it will be helpful to both of you if you can talk about it. I’ve been on both sides of such a dialogue and it isn’t simple for anyone, but I can offer two generalized bits from my experience that are relatively well vetted by the literature and mental health professionals in my life.
First, use “I” statements, e.g. “I feel … when you … “. This way you take responsibility for your own feelings without assigning blame. This way you get to say how you feel and own your feelings without accusations. Second, if possible, pull the person aside or bring up the issue in private. Naturally, it’s best to avoid potentially causing anyone to feel shame publicly.
So if you’re at a party with a physics geek who won’t stop talking about the awe inspiring mysteries of the universe and you have trouble following or participating in the conversation you might say, “I feel left out when you talk about your work like you’re with your co-workers. Can we talk about something else?” It’s very likely that you will then be in the midst of a conversation about a local sports team, which may or may not be more agreeable to you, but you’ll feel like your feelings were recognized and they’ll feel nice–if slightly embarrassed–for recognizing and accepting your feelings.