Ending Mental Health Taboo, One Conversation at a Time

One of the most common questions we receive from family members and facility staff is, “how is Tender Heart different from the art & crafts programming we already have?” While we understand the question, it’s the therapeutic aspect of our program that is so different, and so necessary in the facilities we visit. Today, we are going to look at exactly why our work is so important. 

During a group discussion at one of our facilities, a group member said “your generations are so lucky, because you talk so much more about mental health.” As we continued to discuss this, we realized just how right she was as we listened to the stories shared by the group members. One shared her experience with what she now knew was postpartum, explaining how she suffered alone because “I didn’t know anything different.” Another talked about depression, and the differences she’s seen in the support her daughter, who also experiences depression, has received versus the support she got at her daughter’s age. “There was none. No one knew, because I didn’t talk about it,” she shared. 

Unfortunately, this discussion was not unique to this facility, and in fact, has been repeated across our company. Why? Because when many of our group members were growing up, mental health was not something that was talked about. Some have never heard the diagnosis their symptoms match, and with that, have missed out on the coping skills and strategies available to make their symptoms more manageable. Some have never shared their stories, and heard the always-comforting, “I deal with that too.” 

This is the heart-breaking reality: many of our group members have never been able to talk about their mental health, until now. To hear that other people experience similar symptoms, to receive education regarding mental health and to practice new coping skills and strategies, in a safe and trusting environment, is monumental to many of our group members. Above all else, we offer a place for group members to share their stories, and some are sharing their stories for the very first time. 

Why is it so difficult for our older generations to discuss mental health? Because it’s part of the culture that we are just now seeing some improvements in. Female trauma-survivors used to be labeled “hysterical” by psychologists. Returning veterans from war were told to “suck it up” when experiencing what we now know is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. People experiencing Schizophrenia were often thought to be possessed and often left alone by family members and the community. Those with symptoms often never shared it because they had a “don’t talk about it, just keep going” mentality. 

Part of the way we change the taboo surrounding mental health is accepting those who share with us. If someone shares with you their worries or concerns about their mental health, don’t just write it off. Don’t remind them of all the things they should be happy about or tell them to calm down. Instead, listen. Let them know you are here to support them, that they are not alone. Help them find resources (we have a few included below), and continue to be there as they navigate this new journey. Oftentimes, the first sharing experience is the hardest and it’s an important moment for them. It can be the support they need to reach out for professional help or the invalidation they use to continue struggling quietly. We can work to change this taboo together. 

  • Dial *211 for assistance available

  • If you would like to go through a community mental health agency, or you have Medicaid or Medicare, simply google [your county] community mental health.