Tips for talking to your friends about your mental health
Starting a conversation with your friends about your mental health can be really scary, but it can also help you feel less alone. Four of our bloggers share their tips for opening up to friends.
Hannah, 23, she/her
Your mental health can sometimes have a massive impact on your friendships, but more so if your friend does not know what’s going on. If you’re struggling with your mental health, it can sometimes make you act differently and this can be picked up on by your friends. You might be more distant, ask more questions, need a bit more reassurance from them or you might be cancelling plans or avoiding phone calls with them. The way you behave as a result of your mental health is different for everyone, but being able to explain this to your friends can help them to understand what you’re going through and why you’re acting the way that you are.
It’s okay for you to not want to tell everyone; it’s personal to you and not always something people want to broadcast because it can make you feel vulnerable. But after you talk about how you’re feeling and release your emotions it can make you feel so much better, like a weight has been lifted!
Telling a friend or family member about your mental health struggles can be scary, but here are some tips that may make it more manageable:
- Make sure you’re somewhere you feel comfortable - like at home, or somewhere quiet. It can also help to talk while doing an activity where you may feel less pressured, like going for a walk or for a coffee.
- Write down what you want to say. If this feels a bit too formal, write some notes on your phone or practise how you want to start the conversation in your head.
- If you don’t want to answer all of their questions, that’s okay. Whoever you talk to may have questions but you can answer them in your own time, or not answer them at all if you don’t want to. Your friends should respect how difficult it is for you to talk to them, and understand that it can take time.
- Talk about what they can do to support you. For example if you’re talking about panic attacks, what could they do to help you if you had one while you were with them? How would a friend know you were feeling depressed or anxious, and what could they do to help? Letting your friends know how to help you is SO important, and will help you to feel less alone and more supported. Remember, the same things don’t work for everyone so let them know what’s best for you, or let them help you to figure it out.
Think about what you want from the conversation
Daisy, 20 (she/her)
It is normal to feel nervous or uncomfortable when it comes to talking about your mental health. This can make you feel like it is not something you want to do, but talking about your mental health with the people you trust is often the first step to feeling better.
It can be scary to take the leap, so you may find it useful to tell your friend that you will be talking about your mental health ahead of time so that they can prepare themselves too. But you may want to have the conversation at the same time – do whatever works for you.
Mental health can be a scary topic, so it’s good to plan how you will bring it up in conversation. If you don’t know how to bring it up and it isn’t brought up by your friend, the conversation may end before you are able to talk about it. Here are some useful sentences to start your conversation:
‘I haven’t been feeling like my usual self recently.’
‘I’m struggling with my feelings at the moment.’
It can also be helpful to tell your friend what you want from the conversation so that they know what they can do to help you. This could be simply listening to you when you need to talk about it, supporting you, or helping you to access services that can help you. This can help prepare both of you so you get the most out of it.
Let them know what they can do
Tegan, 15, she/her
Friendships when you have a mental illness can be difficult. My friends are the most accepting and lovely people you could ever wish to meet, but I have gotten lucky with them. When I told them about what I was going through, they were amazing. Some even went as far as to do research to know more about what I was going through, which meant a lot.
But even though I knew my friends would accept me for whoever I am, I was terrified to tell them about my OCD and eating disorder. The media can portray mental illness in such a bad light and I didn’t want their opinion of me clouded by stereotypes. Of course I have these illnesses, but they don’t define me or stop me from being me, and I didn’t want my friends to treat me differently or just see a sick person when they looked at me because I’m so much more than that.
Here are some tips for opening up to friends about your mental health:
- Don’t make a big deal out of it. The likelihood is that if you don’t make it a thing, they won’t see it as a thing.
- Tell people what you would find helpful or unhelpful for them to do. In my case, my friends know that OCD jokes are a big no-no and diet talk is off the cards.
- You decide who knows. Never feel the need to tell anyone anything they don’t need to know.
Friendships can be really helpful when you are dealing with mental illness, but they can also be damaging. Know the signs of a bad friend and don’t feel the need to stay friends with someone if they make you feel worse.
Don't let a bad experience stop you reaching out again
Hollie, 17, she/her
When I was in year nine, I was really struggling with my mental health. I knew that I couldn’t carry on without help and support, so I turned to my closest friend. I’ll be the first to admit that it was scary opening up to someone, but as I gradually shared more of what I was going through, it helped me to put it all into perspective and regain some control over my life.
Some of you may think ‘well it worked for you, but it won’t for me’. Maybe you’ve opened up to a friend before and been let down, hurt, or betrayed. Or maybe you’re worried that’s what will happen. This is a valid fear. We never know what is going to happen in the future. I can’t promise you that every one of your friends will be accepting and understanding because I know from experience that they may not be, but this doesn’t mean that the right friends won’t be.
After I opened up to my friend, we had a lot of issues as a group and she ended up ending our friendship. This hurt a lot as I thought she understood how much I was struggling. I was left with feelings of hurt and regret for trusting someone who let me down. For a while I let these feelings control my other friendships and prevent me from being honest or open about my struggles again. But when I started year 12, I made some new friends and we quickly developed a deep relationship as a group. In this happier situation I realised that just because I had a bad experience of opening up in the past, it wouldn’t always be that way.
I started being more open again with my friends and found that they struggled with similar things to me. They were incredibly understanding and together we came up with ways in which we could all help each other deal with our different mental health struggles.
Where to get help
If you are struggling with your mental health, you're not alone. For tips, advice and information on where you can get support with whatever you're going through, have a look at our find help pages.