Give a little bit of your love to me …

IMPORTANT: This blog is not a substitute for therapy, but provides evidenced-based education for the purposes of self-help, or to compliment the therapeutic process. ​ ​This blog is non-monetized.

By: Connie Marasco, Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying)  and Juli Fyfe, Registered Psychotherapist

For those of you who can hear music and lyrics in your head … remember this one? 

Give a little bit
Oh, give a little bit of your love to me
I’ll give a little bit
I’ll give a little bit of my love to you
There’s so much that we need to share
So send a smile and show you care.

Supertramp, Give a Little Bit

We know in any given year, one in five Canadians will experience serious mental health challenges, and by the time we are 40, 1 in 2 of us will have had or have one currently.  We also know we can all struggle, and it might not matter that we don’t have a specific diagnosis – all of us face challenges on a fairly regular basis.

The last three years have been particularly difficult for many.  In recent years we have seen many causes of a mental health crisis  identified, including increased social media exposure (for people of all ages).  Although social media may add concerns regarding it’s effect on our kids mental health, it’s also assisted in normalizing and validating experiences that many people felt quite alone with previously. 

Unfortunately, this hasn’t necessarily made it any easier to reach out and ask for support, especially from those closest to us. As a therapist I’ve heard many reasons why reaching out to our support system may be uncomfortable:

  • It’s my problem, I don’t want to make it anyone else’s.
  • I don’t want to sound dramatic.”      
  • Everyone deals with this, it isn’t a big deal.

Taking ownership of our mental health journey doesn’t mean going it alone. In fact, talking to our loved ones about how we’re struggling is less about passing on our problems, and more about including them in the solution. Your support system may already suspect that you’re dealing with something, and maybe they’ve even tried to help, but missed the mark. 

​Maybe they haven’t been sure how to talk to you about it. Letting them in and being honest about how they can help, may actually relieve them of mental load, rather than add to it.

Below are a few factors to consider if you’ve decided to talk to your loved ones about your mental health.

1. Choose your support system

Identify the people in your life that you feel emotionally safe with. Being vulnerable and asking for help is hard enough without the added pressure of avoiding conflict. You may have loved ones in your circle who you care for dearly, but whose views on mental health might make this conversation harder. These people may not be the best ones to reach out to yet, especially if this is the first time you are talking about this (you wouldn’t throw a child who can’t swim into the deep end for the first time and expect them to get back into the water right?).

Pick the people in your life who have already been open to hearing you out. It will help you build confidence, and increase the possibility of you reaching out again when you need to. 

Part of your mental health journey may be that no one feels safe right now, or that no one has the space, time or resources to help you. If that’s the case, I would suggest identifying the free resources in your area to get you connected with a professional who does. They are out there. 

2. Timing is everything

You may want to consider what time and date is best for you to have this conversation.  A good question to ask yourself is, “are you emotionally and mentally prepared right now to get the wrong response?” If your medication wears off at 6:00pm for example, having a vulnerable conversation at 7:30pm may not be the best idea.  

Ideally, we want our loved ones to hear what we’ve said the way we meant to say it, and allowing them to select a time and date that works best for them, may increase the possibility of success.

​Giving them a heads up that this is an important conversation will give your loved one an opportunity to be open and ready to listen.

3. What to say

This is entirely up to you and it’s important to remember that you don’t have to share everything. You may want to ask yourself a few questions before entering into this conversation to help you narrow the focus:

  1. “What is the goal of this conversation?” 
  2. “What are my expectations of this conversation?” 
  3. “How am I hoping to feel at the end of this conversation?”
  4. “What do I need right now?”

Answering these questions prior to the conversation (write it down!) can help you keep things simple and straight forward. Maybe the goal is to just say it aloud to someone, maybe what you need is someone to listen, maybe what you’re hoping for is to feel a sense of relief.

​Whatever the case, it might be important to start this conversation by telling your loved what you need so they understand what the expectation is. Many of us jump into solve it mode when we hear someone we care about is struggling, we want to fix it, we want to feel useful. Knowing this, it may be best to let your support system know that what would be useful for you in this moment and how they can help. 

What if you’re worried about someone else? 

You may be noticing a loved one in your family struggling, and perhaps you want to talk to them about what you notice, or offer support but don’t know how to even start the conversation.

​Here are some some do’s and don’ts to consider to help you connect with your loved one and open a new conversation.

Do’s: 

1. Make a mental note of what you are seeing/hearing or noticing, perhaps write it down. Be very specific. Here are a few examples:

  • Have they seemed extremely tired and sleeping more lately?
  • Have they lost weight, increased alcohol or cannabis use, been isolating more, have lower mood?
  • Have they lost interest in the things that brought them happiness in the past aren’t doing it these things anymore?
  • Are they more irritable or quicker to anger or withdraw and shut down?
  • Are they struggling with things they hadn’t before, or is there a cycle repeating you are worried about  ( job, breakup, divorce, debt)?​

2.  Ask permission.

  • Ask if its ok to talk about what you are seeing/noticing/hearing?
  • Let them know it’s not easy for you to discuss this but you care deeply.
  • You can try saying something such as  “Talking to you about this makes me feel nervous/anxious/hopeful.  I feel it’s important for me to tell you this because I am worried about you/us/our relationship.​

3. Speak from a place of curiosity and rather than knowing.

  • What is it like for you?
  • Can you share with me what is going on/how you are feeling. Really feeling?​

4.  Validate their emotions.

  • I can see how you feel that way. Knowing you, I can see how hard this is for you/ why you feel so ______.  Anyone might feel that way. It makes sense! ​

5. Active listening is a real skill and its very different from simply hearing the other person.

  • Active listening means being present without distractions,It involves summarizing or reflecting back what you hear them say,
  • Ask open ended questions (tell me more? rather than ‘why’?),
  • Active listening is non-judgemental, so consider how you might put your own biases and perspectives aside. Even if you feel they are over-reacting, or are not well because of something they have done, sharing that at this moment will not be helpful.

DON’Ts

1. Don’t minimize: It’s easy to unintentionally minimize their feelings/situation.  Avoid statements such as:

  • “We all have bad days … you’ll get over it,”
  • “There are others who suffer more. You should be grateful what in your life is good,”
  • “Perhaps you are too sensitive and are overreacting.”​

2. Don’t compare their situations to yours or others (or launch into your own story about that time in your life when …) This can also make the other person feel invalidated. Although many of us will use our own experiences to connect or empathize with others, this can often take away from understanding the unique experience of our loved one and run the risk of further invalidating them.

3. If you offer to help, don’t abandon them. We may jump at the chance to help a loved one, and sometimes agree to support them before considering whether we have the emotional space and resources to do so. To avoid possible resentment or leaving the other feeling even more alone, make sure you’ve identified how far you’re willing or capable to go in supporting them.  If you are not able to support them alone, help them find resources (therapist, helpline, and if in crisis the hospital) who can.

One last thing that is always good to remember, is that you are not alone.

​In Canada, we have many areas of resource for you to draw on, from learning all you can from reputable sources online for free (like this blog!), to government funded public programs, to private services that offer both a wide range of affordability, but that are also covered through workplace insurance benefits. 

And in the words of Roger Hodgson from Supertramp, sometimes we have to give a little bit, to get a little bit of what we need. 

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Picture of Connie Marasco, H.BA, MACP

Connie Marasco, H.BA, MACP

Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) Connie is a Registered Psychotherapist (qualifying) and Certified Trauma Professional (CTP), providing virtual services to all of Ontario, and in-person in Bolton, ON. Connie is a firm believer in not trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, especially in her work with ADHD clients. Contact Connie for more ADHD individual, or couples treatment.

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