The Elephant in the Room

The Elephant in the Room

The Elephant in the Room

By Helena Bester


It’s a big thing

Feel its presence.   The African elephant.   It is the largest living land mammal that can weigh anything from two to six tons.    Some of them stand over 3m tall to their shoulders.   Large tusks, a trunk and thin ears that can radiate heat, complete the picture.   

Now image this African elephant in your living room.   Would you (or your family) be able to ignore it?   I should think not.   

There is an elephant in your living room.

If you live with mental illness or addiction in your family, it is often not spoken about. Still, you can feel its presence every day.

Mental illness more prevalent than you think

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, mental illness is more common than you might think. It is estimated that at least one in twenty-five people experience a severe mental illness in any given year, one that significantly limits their day-to-day living.

Mental illness is an emotional torment and sufferers are often self-conscious that others will judge them as ‘not normal.’ This feeling of self-consciousness and shame can often expand to include those close to the person.  

“If we don’t talk about it, it might go away.”

It’s silly, hey?

A mental illness or addiction problem is not something that can be wished away.  Healing and a subsequent plan of action can only come if the issue is talked about openly and honestly among friends and family.   

Tips on how to remove the elephant

Prod it with a pen

It is always a good idea to write down your feelings. It will give you a much clearer idea of what you want to say. It can be detailed or just keywords – it doesn’t matter. Writing down what you want to say is just to add some structure to the conversation and to make sure that everything is covered.   

Meet it at the waterhole

Once you decide (as the addict or the family member) to confront the elephant in the room, let the person you wish to talk to know what you want to have a serious conversation.    Ask him/her to set some time aside so that you can chat without interruptions.

An elephant is an elephant.

The addiction or mental illness is a reality. Don't underestimate the seriousness of the conversation. It is crucial to communicate what you are feeling explicitly. The elephant won't go away if you downplay your feelings. Tell everything as it is.

Elephants are not fast walkers.

It is okay to take it slow.   You don’t have to share everything all at once.   Talking about addiction or mental health can be more than just one conversation.    You can also speak to more than one person at different times if that would help.  

Even elephants get messed up sometimes.

Life is not perfect.  Don’t worry about messing up the conversation.   Your loved one will understand if you just say that you don’t know what to do.   It is more important to get it all out in the open, tell people how you feel and ask for help. It is often all that is needed to remove the elephant from the room finally.