Your friends are among the most important people in your life. They’ve seen you in the best of times and the worst and you likely rely on them or a family member for assistance when something goes wrong. The bond between friends creates trust and understanding — you know each other better than anybody. Opening up to each other about mental health can be a critical conversation. Here’s how to talk to your friends about your mental health:
Why Mental Health Is Important
Mental health is a vital part of your life. It affects your everyday habits like talking, moving around, eating and general productivity. A person’s ways of thinking and feeling revolve around their mental health, involving humans in childhood and throughout adulthood.
If you experience mental health issues, you’re not alone. More than half of American adults receive a diagnosis of a mental illness in their lifetimes. About 20% of Americans experience mental illness yearly and about 4% have a severe mental illness like schizophrenia.
Telling Friends About Your Mental Health
Talking to friends about your mental health can be nerve-wracking. It’s hard enough to tell a medical professional, so opening up to the people closest to you isn’t necessarily easy for anyone. Here are a few tips to help you have this essential conversation.
1. Communicate How You Want
The best way to open up is by using the most comfortable methods. You could invite your friend over for a face-to-face conversation at your home, their residence or in a public setting. Another option is setting up a phone call or a video chat. Some people may find it best to write a text message or letter to communicate their struggles.
2. Practice Your Conversation
While it may feel odd, practicing what you want to say can benefit these situations. Knowing what you want to discuss and how you’ll bring it up can make the conversation easier. You can write down notecards, talk into a mirror or find other ways to help you. Be patient with yourself and your friends — having time to process is vital.
3. Give Examples
One way to help your friends understand your mental health struggles is to give examples of when your disorder has affected you. You don’t need to use these examples to justify why you’re struggling, but they can help your friend sympathize with what you’re going through.
Mental illness often goes unnoticed and some symptoms may come across as normal behavior to your friends. Your friends may view you as a nervous person by nature without realizing you’re showing anxiety symptoms.
Approaching Friends About Their Mental Health
On the flip side, you may have a friend who comes to you to discuss their mental health. This experience can also be challenging because you may feel unequipped to respond. Here are a few tips to help you in this situation.
1. Ask How You Can Help
If your friend tells you about their mental health issues, one of the best things you can do is ask how you can help. Actionable tasks can make your lives easier if you know what to do. Your job could be as simple as listening to what your friend needs to say — acknowledging their issues and making them feel seen and valid can go a long way.
Other actionable items may come in future situations. For example, say your friend has social anxiety. This mental health issue can make going out in public a burdensome task. One way to help alleviate the problem is to not pressure them into situations where they’d be uncomfortable. Instead, you could lean on activities that make them happy and comfortable.
2. Remind Them They’re Not Alone
Your friend may feel uncomfortable sharing details about their mental health because they worry about potential judgment. In this situation, remind them of your friendship and how you will support them despite what they’re going through.
This conversation is an excellent opportunity to remind them they’re not alone. Putting your mental health problems into words may be difficult, especially for younger people. About 70% of children ages 5 to 16 have mental health problems but have not experienced the appropriate interventions.
3. Keep It Confidential
Many people who open up about their mental health issues are selective in who knows about their problems. If your friend comes to you, take that as a sign of deep trust — keep your conversations confidential. If they want to tell others, let them do it on their terms.
If multiple people know, ask if you can create a support team. You can be there for your friend with ways to help if a bad situation arises or you could help them find mental health counselors who can assist with their issues.
Speaking Truths About Mental Health
Since the pandemic, conversations about mental health have become more commonplace. People have tried to reduce the stigmas that come with illnesses in many forms. Speaking up about your mental health shows bravery and acceptance that everyone needs help sometimes. If you or someone you know is struggling to open up, use this article to talk to your friends about mental health.