How to talk about your mental health

It can hard to talk openly about your mental health problem, but you may be surprised at how supportive people can be. We spoke to Helen Cleather from SANE to find out the best way to talk about your mental health.

Two girls talking on a bench in the park

Tell someone you trust first

Do I have to tell people I have a mental health problem?

Whether you’ve been diagnosed with a specific mental health problem or you’re having feelings that don’t seem normal, it’s tempting to try and deal with it alone. And if you’re worried about how people will react, it isn’t surprising that you’re keeping it to yourself.

Mental illness can make you feel lonely and isolated, telling other people can help you feel better.

“Aim not to feel alone,” says Helen from mental health charity SANE.

It might help to talk things through with someone you don’t know first, as a kind of practice run. SANE run a phone line on 0845 767 8000, and an email service which offers confidential emotional support.

Who should I talk to about my mental health?

The most important person to tell is your doctor. It’s your GP who can give you a diagnosis and get you treatment you need.

Once you’ve spoken to them, tell someone in your life that you think will handle it well. This could be a parent, a sibling, a teacher, your personal tutor, a school counsellor, or a close friend.

“Think about who the people you trust are,” says Helen, “and trust one person first.”

There are some people you’ll probably have to tell eventually, like your parents, or your college or university if your mental health affects your work. But they don’t have to be the first people you tell, start with one and see how it goes.

What should I say about my mental health problem?

Putting your feelings into words is sometimes difficult, and you may be worried you’ll say the wrong thing or explain it badly. Take time to think about what you want them to know.

“Think about how much you want to share and how quickly,” says Helen. “Only say what feels comfortable.”

Try writing down a few of the thoughts and feelings you’ve had so you’re prepared. Print off some online factsheets or articles, like ours, that you can give to people to help them understand. Remember, those who haven’t ever struggled themselves often won’t know much about mental health problems; it may take a while to explain.

You might be tempted to blurt out everything to the first person you tell – especially if you’ve been holding it in for so long. But only do this if you know you won’t regret it. Being honest is great, but it can also leave us feeling vulnerable afterwards. Decide beforehand exactly how much you want to share.

How will they react?

It’s natural for people who care about you to be upset about your suffering. Don’t be too disheartened if they say the wrong thing. If their initial reaction isn’t great that doesn’t mean they won’t be really supportive once they’ve had time to process it.

Be prepared for lots of questions. Answer what you can; the more they ‘get it’ the better they’ll be able to support you. But don’t be afraid to stop the conversation if you’re uncomfortable.

People will probably want to support you, but won’t know how. You could direct them to our article on supporting someone with a mental health issue for some ideas.

If they’re not as supportive as you’d hope, remember it isn’t your fault. Of course you’ll feel hurt, but don’t let this put you off telling anyone else. Give them time to come to terms with your mental health problem and look for support elsewhere.

How many people should I tell?

Once you’ve got over telling that all-important first person it’s up to you how many to tell. “It can be overwhelming for both of you if you’ve just told one person,” says Helen. “Try to have a wide network of support.”

Different people offer different types of support. A teacher can help academically, a boyfriend or girlfriend can give good cuddles, and friends can be great listeners. You may worry about being judged, but others could be suffering silently too.

“Tell your friends,” recommends Helen “When people start talking about mental health it becomes less taboo.”

Remember you can also talk to SANE or the Samaritans confidentially. Plus, you could chat to other young people who’ve been through similar things, on The Mix’s discussion boards.

Next Steps

  • SANE offer support and information to people affected by mental illness. 0300 304 7000
  • Mind offers advice and support to people with mental health problems. Their helpline runs nine to six from Monday to Friday. 0300 123 3393
  • AnxietyUK run helplines, email support, live chats and therapy services for people with anxiety disorders. 08444 775 774
  • Anyone can contact the Samaritans on their 24-hour helpline to talk things through. 116 123
  • If you're under 25 and would like free confidential telephone counselling from The Mix to help you figure things out complete this form and we'll call you to arrange your first session.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015