Talking to loved ones about your mental health

Your family can provide a huge amount of emotional support during a difficult time, but many people struggle talking to their loved ones about their mental health.

Talking to a loved one about your mental health

It can be difficult to talk about your feelings and mental health with the people you care about. You may feel worried about upsetting them or nervous about how they will react or what they will think and the impact it could have on your relationship.

When you feel ready, there’s no right or wrong way to start a discussion with your loved ones, but it is worth taking a little time to prepare yourself first. Here are a few tips and things to consider.

How are you going to share the information?

You need to pick a way of communication that is comfortable for you. Some people like to do this face-to-face, but if this is too difficult, could you do it over the phone or in a letter or email instead?

When is a good time to talk?

Finding the perfect time and place could be a challenge, but try and find somewhere quiet and comfortable, and where you’re unlikely to be disturbed. For example, trying to talk to someone in the middle of the school run may not be the best idea, instead could you talk to them in an evening when the kids are in bed?

What do you want to tell them?

It’s easy to get flustered and forget what you want to say. You may find it helpful to plan out what you
want to talk about; you may find it useful to put notes on paper or even rehearse if it helps you feel more comfortable. Phrases such as “I’ve not been feeling like myself lately” or “I’m finding it hard to cope at the moment” might provide a starting point.

Sometimes, you might not be able to find the words to explain how you’re feeling, so try and look for an example in a book, movie or TV show to help your loved one understand.

Be honest

It’s not always easy to share such personal and private information, but explaining it will help your loved ones understand what you’re experiencing, and the effects your mental health is having on your life.

Being honest also opens a doorway for you to ask for help and for your loved ones to gain a better understanding of how they can support you.

Be realistic

It may take time for your loved ones to understand fully what you have told them.

Sometimes people can be shocked and react badly – give them time and, if possible, agree to continue the discussion later once they’ve had time to process what you have just told them.

How to talk to your child about poor mental health

Many parents who are struggling with their mental health worry about how it might be impacting their children. Common worries include:

  • Being unsure how to start a conversation with their child
  • Feeling like they lack enough information
  • Not having the answers to their child’s questions
  • Saying something ‘wrong’
  • Does their child notice their symptoms and what they think

It’s natural to want to protect your child from stress and confusion, and it’s for this reason that many parents avoid talking to their children about their mental illness. However, helping your child understand your mental illness and its symptoms can be a very powerful way to support them and help them cope better.

By talking about your mental health, you can help reduce any fears they have as well as helping them to make sense of the changes they see in you when you’re unwell, and know that they
are not to blame for your symptoms.

Here are a few tips to help you start a conversation with your child about mental health.

Talking to a child about your mental health

Be honest

As with death, the truth is not nearly as bad as what the child imagines. Be open and honest with your child about your mental health to reduce any confusion or fears they may have and to help them to understand your actions and behaviours.

It may help you to talk to someone or get advice before you speak to them to help you decide what you to want to say to them. If you don’t have someone you can go to for help, there are many support agencies that you could go to, such as Young Minds.

During your talk your child may ask you questions. It’s important that you answer them as honestly as you can. If you don’t know the answer to their question, tell them you will look it up or you will ask someone else who will know the answer.

Use words they will understand

Be very clear and deliberate with the words you use and avoid using any words or euphemisms your child won’t understand.

Keep your explanations about how your mental health affects how you feel and behave as simple as possible.

Give them time to talk

Children are naturally curious and they may have several questions. It’s important you give them time to speak, but also ask them questions about how they’re feeling about what you have told them.

Reassure them

Don’t forget to regularly reassure your child that they’re not responsible for how you’re feeling.

Set them limits

Be very clear with them on what information about your mental health difficulties you’re happy for them share and who they can share it with.

Tell them where they can go for help

Let them know that it’s ok if they feel like they can’t talk to you. If this is the case encourage them to talk to someone they trust or give them details of organisations and charities who can help such as Young Minds, Barnardo’s, Family Action and Childline.

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Last updated January 2022.