How to talk about Mental Health

(Ed) This is an excerpt from a recent TEDx Talk by Dan Berstein
A link to the TEDx Talk is included at the end.

How to talk about mental health without offending everyone. Dan Berstein (2017)

When we ask questions instead of making assumptions, then we make room for the other story. Now making room for the other story also means that we have to replace our paternalism with respect for people’s choices, whether you are a mental health professional or a person living with a mental health condition or a supporter, or all of the above.

We all have our own answers when it comes to mental health and too often we spend our time telling people our answers instead of trying to learn from theirs.  We tell people what we believe is the right treatment or the right resource because we’re trying to help, but we forget that even the experts debate everything from diagnosis to treatment. There are no perfect answers in mental health that work for everybody and without those universal answers what we’re left with are personal choices.

We have to learn to embrace the fact that there are all these choices, and respect the choices that people make. That means we have to say things like, “I know this is your choice. Can you help me understand what’s important to you when you’re making that choice?” or, “You’re making a different choice than I would. Can you help me understand why this is the right choice for you?”

When we frame our conversations as discussions about people’s personal choices, then we empower people. We make room for their story.

In making room for the other story we have to face the stigma head-on. We have to acknowledge that some people do have negative attitudes about mental health and this makes it hard for us to have conversations about it.

When I train managers to talk to employees about mental health, we can’t pretend that it is an easy or simple thing for those employees to go to their human resources department and tell them that they have a mental health need, or to use their Employee Assistance Plan to access short-term therapy. The scary reality is that it can be hard to disclose a mental health condition and people get worried that their boss or their coworker might see them differently. We can’t afford to dismiss the stigma or ignore the fact that it exists. When we make room for the fact that there really is the stigma, and we’re making room for the stories of people working to overcome that stigma, everyone has a story when it comes to mental health.

How to talk about mental health without offending everyone. Dan Berstein (2017)

Editor Note: Dan will be holding a 5-Day Training in New York City at John Jay this August.

The Dispute Resolution in Mental Health (DRMH) Initiative
5 Day Training: August 9, 10, 14, 15, 16
John Jay College (59th and 10th)

The 5-Day Basic Mediation training will include lecture, discussion, and role play exercises that help participants learn conflict resolution skills. The program includes discussion of different alternative dispute resolution (ADR) processes, the nature of conflict, the values of mediation, the mediation process, mediation skills, the role of the mediator and other parties, the identification and management of power imbalances, the identification and management of diverse perspectives and possible bias, and ethical issues. This training also covers specific case examples relevant to the peer specialist community.

Click here for a flyer 

One thought on “How to talk about Mental Health

  1. FOXLA February 23, 2018 / 3:35 pm

    This is a very good topic to blog about! I found the article enlightening, and I went to review some of the links related to Talking Mental Health: A Toolkit for Empowering Conversations, and The Dispute Resolution in Mental Health Initiative for starters. It will take me some time to go through some or all of the videos, but the Tip Sheets: Reflective Listening, Supporting Diverse Choices and Getting Past Positions are worthwhile. I really appreciate that Dan Berstein is a Peer and has developed MH Mediate. It means a lot to see Peers creating wonderful creations!


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