A psychiatrist explains how to broach a tough conversation.
Talking about serious health conditions with friends, family, and coworkers can be intimidating. Not only might you worry about their reaction, but you may feel uncomfortable discussing and thinking about the issue yourself.
Psychiatrist Susan Samuels, MD, has three tips for her patients about talking about your medical condition with loved ones:
Set aside time for the conversation. This is not a conversation that you should squeeze in while you wait in line to order lunch. Pick a time and place when you will have privacy, quiet, comfort, and plenty of time for questions or discussion.
Determine your audience. You do not need everyone in your life to know about this condition. Share with close friends and family. You do not need to tell coworkers, but if your condition will cause you to miss work occasionally or avoid certain activities, you might consider telling at least your boss or supervisor.
Choose your words carefully. This conversation will frame others’ perceptions of your condition, so it’s important to use the right language to talk about your illness. Explain the facts, use accurate terminology, and be prepared for questions—you may even want to consider planning your answers ahead of time. When your loved ones have the most accurate information about what you’re facing, they’ll be able to support you better. Consider reviewing our HealthiNation videos to get an overview of different conditions.
Still nervous? One helpful trick is to practice talking about your condition with your doctor. By discussing your illness with a professional, you will get used to hearing yourself speak about this topic and using the appropriate vocabulary.
Similarly, you could speak to a therapist or participants of a group therapy who have a similar illness. You can also journal about your illness beforehand; this is another strategy to help you emotionally accept and reflect on your condition so that you can more comfortably discuss it with another person.
Dr. Samuels is an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry and clinical pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medicine and an assistant attending psychiatrist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.
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When I'm working with people in my
practice and talking about how to speak
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with friends, family, and
coworkers about a difficult topic,
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I found that there are three general
tips that are really helpful.
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First, find the right time
to talk to that person.
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I wouldn't do it in a time
that's particularly rushed or
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when you don't feel
you’re most comfortable.
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Second, think about who are the right
people to talk about this with.
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You might not wanna talk about it with
some people as much as other people.
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And third, and most importantly,
find the right words.
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Find the language that you wanna
use to talk about your illness.
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There was a study done that shows
that talking to your doctor,
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whether it's your primary care doctor,
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or even a mental health professional,
can kind of be like an ice breaker, and
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kind of practice for what words
you might feel comfortable using.
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These difficult conversations might be
even trickier when you're talking about
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them with an intimate partner, so
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it's important to explain as best you can,
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And then be open to answering any
questions and know, maybe even anticipate
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what those questions might be, so you can
answer them the way you wanna answer them.
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Getting this kind of thing off your
chest can be really helpful for you,
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and it helps your loved ones understand
what you're struggling with and
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then you feel like you have
an even better support system,
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and that support system is so
important to you feeling better.
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