Friday, March 31, 2023

Talking to Loved Ones About Mental Health: The Elevator Speech


While not everyone in our lives has earned the right to know our story, there are probably some people in our lives who have. Partners, family, and friends (the family we choose) can provide tremendous support, but how do we even begin to explain what we’ve experiencing so that we can get their buy-in?

When I was first diagnosed with PTSD while serving in the military, I needed the support of my loved ones and didn’t know how to start the conversation. I was afraid of being judged and rejected. Later, I became a mental health provider and learned the power of role-playing and using scripts as a way to practice difficult conversations before having them. In this blog we’re going to map out exactly how to talk to the people in our lives who matter about our mental health issues and ask them for support.

To do this, we are going to create an “elevator speech.” I’ve taught this technique hundreds of times over the years and seen it work time and again.

Let’s Begin 

Awful things happen in our personal relationships when we are struggling with mental illness. Persistent negative beliefs about ourselves, other people, and the world can take a shotgun blast to our personal relationships. This is true even with the people we care about the most.

We may not know we are struggling with mental illness, but we often suspect something is off. We may feel like we’re in a funk or not feeling like ourselves, and our loved ones know something is off, too.

Our mental health issue can become “the elephant in the room.” This metaphor means that there is something in the room that is glaringly obvious to everyone, but no one talks about it because the topic is too uncomfortable. To get past this awkwardness, we are going to create an elevator speech.

The Elevator Speech

We get the term “elevator speech” from the business world. It’s brief, about 30 seconds (the time it takes to ride from the bottom to the top of a building in an elevator), and its intent is to clearly and succinctly make a pitch for support. Here are the steps we will use to make our pitch to our loved ones along with some example verbiage as a model:

1. Ask permission. Before rolling out our elevator speech, it’s important that we let our loved one know that we want to talk to them about something important, and we will need about 30 seconds of uninterrupted time to do it. Not everyone we love will be on board for this, and that’s okay.

Relationships take two people, and it is incredibly important that we choose to honor others’ boundaries. This may sound like: “There is something important I’d like to talk to you about. It’s not bad news. If it’s okay, I’d like to say it all at once and I promise it will only take about 30 seconds. Would that be okay?” Wait for a verbal yes and proceed.

Let’s say our loved one is an interrupter. That’s okay. If they interrupt, gently ask again, “Would it be okay with you if I got this all out? I promise I will answer any questions you have in about 30 seconds.”

What if they say no? This happens, and it’s okay. Let them know that if they change their mind, we are available. Reaffirm that we care about them and respect their boundaries. Then, leave it alone. They will talk to you when they are ready.

2. Introduce our elephant. I’m a believer that whenever there is an elephant in the room, we are smart to introduce it. We might feel uncomfortable, or even feel completely numb and find it hard to connect.

All of that is okay so long as we name it: “I feel really nervous talking to you right now. If I sound shaky, it’s because I am, but I’ll be okay.” Or, “I realize that I might sound like I’m not feeling anything right now. It’s hard for me to connect, but I promise that I want to.”

3. Own our past. This is an opportunity for us to own our struggles or behavior completely with no excuses. Keep it simple: “I know that things have been off. I’ve been drinking too much and spending a lot of time alone.” Or, “I’ve had a terrible couple of years, and I’ve struggled with dark thoughts.”

Nothing we say is a revelation; we are simply stating out loud what they already know.

4. The epiphany. This is when we learned something we didn’t know before or realized something we hadn’t fully grasped before. Because of this, our fundamental belief system has changed, or, for the first time, we want our fundamental belief system to change. Epiphanies come in packages large and small, but their impact is profound. This can sound like, “I realized after my last attempt to end my life that I want to live,” or, “I decided that I want to be the best Mom I can be.”

5. Ask for buy-in, manage expectations. This is when the conversation shifts to the here and now. We need support from our loved one, we know this journey will not be easy, and we state our dedication to trying: “I want to change, and I also know that this won’t be easy. I would value your support.” Our journey is not an overnight process, and we need to let our loved ones know we need them and that we are all-in.

6. Love them. Not everyone is comfortable with those three little words, but this is our chance to break ranks. Keep it simple: “the most important thing I want you to know is that I love you and I’m open to answering any questions you have.”

7. Silence. This is the hardest part of the elevator speech because every part of us wants to jump to the rescue or break the awkward silence. I implore you, friend: be quiet and listen. Our silence honors our loves ones’ experience and invites them to share with us. This is how we reconnect.

Our loved one may not be ready to talk with us at that moment, and that’s okay because we have opened a door that is not easily shut. We can let them know that if they change their mind, we are available, and reaffirm that we care. “I completely understand, and I respect your boundaries. If you change your mind, please know that I would value talking with you.” They will talk to you when they are ready. That is when the real connection or reconnection is possible.

Some of us struggle with verbal processing or something that makes talking to another person impossible for us. That’s okay. Write your elevator speech in a letter and hand it to a loved one. It doesn’t matter how we connect; it matters that we choose to do so in an authentic way.


If you believe change is possible, you want to change, and you are willing to do the work, you absolutely CAN get your life back.”

Get your copy of The Soldier's Guide to PTSDThe Soldier's Workbook

or Acknowledge & Heal, A Women's-Focused Guide to PTSD

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