red stop sign text reading how to talk about mental health

When you’re struggling, the first step to feeling better is finding a way to talk about how you’re feeling. But for a lot of us, it can be hard to speak up, and even harder to know how to approach the conversation — who to talk to and what to say.

Talking about your mental health is a vital part of getting the help you need.

What to talk about

Just thinking about how to start the conversation on your mental health concern can be overwhelming, you can ease some of your worries and get the best support possible by planning the conversation. 

  • Make space for the conversation.  Prepare your listener for an important conversation by making it clear that it is important to you and requires their attention.
    • "I want to talk to you about something important. I'm not sure how to talk about it, though. Can you just listen to me and try to understand? I'm hoping I'll feel better after talking about it with someone, but I need you to be patient."
    • "There's something going on in my life that's bothering me. I think I need to talk to someone about it. I feel embarrassed about it, though, so please don't laugh it off or make a joke out of it."
    • "I'm not sure if this will make sense. I feel uncomfortable talking about it, but I want to tell someone. Because you're an RA, I hope you'll be able to give me advice on what to do next for help."
  • Have concrete examples of what you are struggling with. Every person's mental health looks different. To get the best support possible, share one or two examples of what's causing you stress:
    • "I think something's wrong because I can't sleep more than a couple of hours at night. It's hurting my work and I feel out of control."
    • "I've started skipping classes sometimes. I'm worried I'll stop leaving the apartment if I don't get help."
    • "The doctor said I have bipolar disorder. Sometimes I feel like things are getting out of control and I’m not sure how to keep myself together."
  • Identify the supports you are looking for.  Family and friends may not know what they can do to help. You can get the best support by asking for specific types of help:
    • "I'm scared to make a counselling appointment because that's like admitting something is wrong. But I need to see someone. Can you help me find one and follow through?"
    • "I am hoping to learn to manage my symptoms."
    • "I'm not supposed to drink alcohol with my medications. I'm going to try not to drink at parties, but I need my close friends to encourage me and help me keep my social life."
    • "I'm feeling better. But once in a while, can you tell me you're there for me and give me a hug?"
  • You don't have to share everything. Decide in advance what parts of your experience you'll talk about and what parts you won't. Stand by your decision. It's perfectly understandable to answer a question with a statement like “I'd rather not talk about that right now.”
  • Set boundaries. Be clear with people about when you want their advice and when you just want them to listen. Also, realize that people come with their own opinions, informed and otherwise, so be patient when explaining. If they try to discredit you, gently remind them that you know yourself best.
How to say it 

If you are struggling with what you want to say use the letter below and fill in the blanks. Pick from the options listed or use your own words.

Dear _________,

For the past (day/week/month/year/__________), I have been feeling (unlike myself/sad/angry/anxious/ moody/agitated/lonely/hopeless/fearful/overwhelmed/ distracted/confused/stressed/empty/restless/unable to function or get out of bed/__________).

I have struggled with (changes in appetite/changes in weight/loss of interest in things I used to enjoy/ hearing things that were not there/seeing things that were not there/ feeling unsure if things are real or not real/ my brain playing tricks on me/ lack of energy/increased energy/ inability to concentrate/alcohol or drug use or abuse/self-harm/skipping meals/overeating/overwhelming focus on weight or appearance/feeling worthless/ uncontrollable thoughts/guilt/paranoia/nightmares/ bullying/not sleeping enough/ sleeping too much/risky sexual behaviour/overwhelming sadness/losing friends/unhealthy friendships/unexplained anger or rage/isolation/ feeling detached from my body/feeling out of control/ thoughts of self-harm/cutting/thoughts of suicide/plans of suicide/abuse/sexual assault/death of a loved one/__________).

Telling you this makes me feel (nervous/anxious/hopeful/embarrassed/ empowered/proactive/mature/self-conscious/guilty/__________), but I’m telling you this because (I’m worried about myself/it is impacting my schoolwork/it is impacting my friendships/I am afraid/I don’t want to feel like this/I don’t know what to do/I don’t have anyone else to talk to about this/I trust you/__________).

I would like to (talk to a doctor or therapist/talk to a counsellor/talk to my teachers/talk about this later/create a plan to get better/talk about this more/find a support group/__________) and I need your help.


(Your name__________)

*adapted from Mental Health America

Then what

If you’ve made the decision to talk to someone about your mental health, you may be nervous about how things will go and what could happen. Below are some things to expect: 

  • You Might Feel Relieved. Being able to open up and share something you’ve been keeping to yourself for a long time can feel like a weight has been lifted. You might learn that the person you’re talking to has had some personal experience or knows someone in their family who has gone through something similar, which will help you to feel less alone.

  • You Might Be Disappointed. Unfortunately, the person you tell might not understand what you are going through or respond in a way that is unhelpful/unsupportive. It can be discouraging if you work up the nerve to speak up and are then told, “you’ve just got the blues” “get over it” stop being silly” or “you worry too much.” Sometimes this kind of reaction has to do with culture or expectations. Try to explain how it is really having an effect on your ability to live a healthy and happy life and you aren’t sure how to make things better. If for some reason the person you chose to talk to still isn’t supportive, someone else will be. Don't give up on getting support, think about someone else you could talk to that would be more receptive or try talking to a trained mental health support provider like Good2Talk
  • Expect To Be Asked Questions. Some questions might include: How long has this been going on? Did something difficult happen before you started feeling this way? Can you describe what it’s like? You don’t have to answer every question that you’re asked if you don’t want. Remember that the person you’re talking to is probably asking questions to help them better understand what you’re going through.

  • Your Next Step Might Be Going To An Appointment Of Some Sort. If the person you spoke to wasn't a health provider or mental health support provider, your next step might be to book an appointment with one. These professionals can help figure out what exactly is going on and how to start getting you the help you need. You might need to talk to more than one person to find someone who can be the most helpful.

  • It Takes Time To Get Better. You could be going through something situational, which can improve with time to process feelings (for example, grief after the death of a loved one or a tough break-up) or adjustments to your environment (moving away from home or getting new roommates ), or you could have a more long term mental health issue. Mental health issues are common and treatable; however, you may have to try a few different things to find the right type of treatment or combination of strategies that work best for you.

*Information adapted from The Jed Foundation