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How to tell someone about your mental health issues

two people sad

How to talk to someone about your mental illness


Should I tell my friends about my mental illness?

Mental health challenges can be debilitating and disrupt your life. One of the best things you can do for yourself when going through mental health issues is to talk to someone about it. It could be your partner, friend, or family. But even then, being open about mental healthcan be very difficult. So how do you go about it?

To talk to someone about your mental health challenges, set aside some free time (at least 30-60 minutes) when neither of you would have to take care of other obligations. You can start with a text message or social media if a face-to-face conversation is embarrassing at first.

Worrying about what they’ll think, do, or say after listening is common, which might discourage you. Unfortunately, there's no way to know their reaction, but talking to the people closest to you can be an invaluable source of support when going through mental health issues.

How to start a conversation about mental health

Here are some tips for talking about mental illness:

Find a communication mode you’re most comfortable with

You might find it easier to pen down your words in a letter. Some prefer face-to-face conversations. You may even begin by telling the person you have something important you need to discuss. Then you can proceed with the rest of the conversation via whatever mode of communication feels most convenient for you.


Find a suitable time and place

For a discussion as personal and heartfelt as a mental health issue, you wouldn’t want to cut midway because you or the listener has to get to work or take the kids from school. So it’s essential that you both agree on a time and place free from distractions for at least 30 minutes up to an hour.


Practice or write out what you want to say

If you’d be having a face-to-face conversation, you want to practice what to say beforehand. This will help you speak with more clarity to avoid any form of misunderstanding.

These are some points your speech or letter should contain:

Sometimes, explaining what you’re experiencing may be challenging. You may struggle to find the right words. In that case, it’s helpful to use examples to explain, probably something you’ve watched on TV.


Let them know what kind of help you think you need

When opening up to someone about your mental health problems, it’s essential to tell them what you expect from them. It could be their listening ears (when you just need to vent), emotional support, or advice. You could also ask if they know where to get professional help.

Whatever it is, it’s all a form of help and can ease up what you’re currently going through.


Be honest throughout

When discussing something as personal as a mental health challenge, you might be tempted to leave some details out or make alterations, but don’t. Explaining your feelings exactly as they are will not only help the listener understand you but will also help ease your mind.


Talking about mental illness: What next?

After talking about your mental health issues, you have to understand that they may be in a state of shock at first. At that point, it’s not uncommon for them to go mute or react wrongly at first. It’s an uncomfortable situation, even for the listener.

So it’s best to begin the conversation, never expecting too much from the person. They may not have the right resources or frame of mind to offer the best help at that point.


How can talking to someone help your mental health?

Whatever happens, one thing is for sure: you’ll feel relieved after opening up about your mental health issues. You’ve been keeping your mental health to yourself for a long time, so it will be like a burden taken off your shoulders.

Furthermore, you might learn that the person has gone through a similar situation or know someone who has. That can help you feel less alone.


Finally, expect some questions, mostly awkward ones. Your friend might need clarity in some areas. For example, they may want to know what happened before you started feeling that way. Remember, you have to be honest and open if you must get the most appropriate help or advice.

And remember, opening up is the first step to the healing process. So, whatever you’re battling with, you have to be brave enough, put shame aside, and seek help. Consult with a licensed mental health specialist if talking to a friend or family about your mental health issues feels too intimidating.

Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Hope Mental Health, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.  Ms. Woodland with her background in nursing, prefers a holistic and integrative approach to mental health care that addresses the mind and body together. While Ms. Woodland provides medication management services in all her patients, she believes in long-lasting solutions that include a number of psychotherapies, namely cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention therapy, attention to lifestyle, evidenced based alternative psychiatric care and spirituality. If you’d like to gain control over your mental health issues, call Hope Mental Health at 208-918-0958, or use the online scheduling tool to set up an initial consultation.

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