Despite the fact that conversations surrounding mental health are now taking place at the office, across school districts, and between loved ones, there’s still a bit of a lingering stigma surrounding the topic. So when a new study sheds light on how mental health affects your relationships, you’d probably expect the worst, right? But here’s what so many people get wrong about mental health: It’s something that you have, that I have, and that everyone needs to actively check in with in order to make sure their mind is being cared for in the same way that their body is being looked after. This means making self-care a priority, carving a couple of minutes out of your busy schedule to acknowledge how you’re feeling in the moment, and maybe even opening up about your struggles with a loved one or friend.
The term “mental health” is sometimes assumed to have a kind of negative connotation attached to it, and that could, at least in part, be due to the fact that some people tend to automatically associate the term "mental health" with serious illnesses, such as eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsions. While these types of conditions do fall under the general umbrella of mental health, according to Robert Glatter, M.D., an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health, your overall well-being does, too. Think about it this way: If, on Tuesday, you wake up feeling a little groggy and out of sorts, and on Wednesday it’s the same scenario, that funk you’re experiencing is, in some ways, a reflection of your mental health.
“Mental health is really a term that describes our emotional well-being — it’s a reflection of our emotional and cognitive state, and how we feel and respond to ourselves and others,” Glatter tells Elite Daily over email. In other words, mental health just refers to how you’re emotionally connected to what’s going on in your life on a day-to-day basis, and how you’re responding to the very natural ups and downs life throws at you.
Because your mental health plays a vital role in how you react to everyday life, it’s inevitable that your mental health affects your relationships with other people, too, at least to some degree. For example, maybe you come into the office with a case of the Mondays because you and your SO had an argument the night before. Your brain hasn’t quite caught up to your body just yet, so while you may be going through the physical motions of sitting at your desk, attending meetings, and typing up assignment after assignment, you’re mentally exhausted and upset, resulting in your snapping at a co-worker when they ask one too many questions. But instead of bottling up your emotions and taking your frustrations out on someone you’re close with, what would happen if you confided in them?
To find out, researchers from Florida Atlantic University analyzed the friendships of nearly 400 students from the time they were about 13 years old, up until their senior year of high school. Over the course of those six or so years, researchers checked in with students, their peers, and teachers to determine whether or not their personal struggles with mental health affected their friendships, ScienceDaily reports. The results of the study, which have been published in the Journal of Research on Adolescence, showed that when friends confide in one another and experience similar struggles, sharing those experiences is what ends up being “the glue that holds a friendship together,” Brett Laursen, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Psychology in FAU's Charles E. Schmidt College of Science and co-author of the study, said in a statement.
"Talking about mental health naturally brings people together because it's a vulnerable step in connection," Tracy Carson, a licensed counselor and director of education and communication at Katana Safety, tells Elite Daily. And though Carson wasn't involved in this particular study, she agrees that sharing your feelings with others, even those you aren't particularly closest to, can be beneficial to not only the relationship, but also in the sense that it creates "a safe landing space for talking." In other words, it's a way for you to test the waters and figure out who you feel comfortable expressing yourself to, and who feels comfortable being on the receiving end of these types of conversations.
Of course, this is probably one of those situations where it's easier said than done, right? Mental health is still an incredibly sensitive subject, and one that, a lot of the time, people either tip-toe around or don’t discuss at all. But the only way to end the stigma around mental health is by opening up about your struggles, no matter how "insignificant" they might seem to you, and especially if they feel serious to the point of your being unable to live your life to the fullest. So with that being said, where do you start?
Well, there are two things to keep in mind when choosing to open up to a friend or loved one about your mental health, and those are cause and effect, Shannon Thomas, an award-winning therapist and survivor of psychological abuse, tells Elite Daily. “When we begin to share about our mental health, we want to assure our loved ones they haven't caused the concerns and they do not have the pressure to fix the situation,” she says over email. “Stating that upfront helps loved ones relax and not come into the conversation defensive or overwhelmed by what they are experiencing.”
However, if you're on the receiving end, listening to a friend or loved one open up about their struggles with mental health, and you do feel overwhelmed, that’s OK, too. Support and acceptance are two of the most important things you can offer to someone who confides in you, Jamison Monroe, founder and CEO of Newport Academy, tells Elite Daily. The best thing you can do, he explains, is lend someone an ear, listen to what they have to say, and, if you feel comfortable, ask if there’s any way you can help. But, if you feel the situation calls for professional help, he adds, it's important to encourage your loved one to see a therapist or doctor who can point them in the right direction.
And this works both ways. If you're experiencing mental health issues and feel you need someone to talk to besides a friend or family member, don’t hesitate to reach out and get the help you need. Your mental health is just as important as your physical well-being; make sure you’re taking care of it.