Talking About Mental Health

Talking About Mental Health

For Teens

How to Talk to Friends About Your Mental Health

Everyone has different comfort levels when sharing personal details with friends, and that’s okay. There is no right or wrong way to open up to a friend. Whether you decide to divulge a few basic details about what you’re going through or tell your whole life’s story, the most crucial part is that you only share what you’re comfortable with sharing.

If you decide to share, you can tailor your approach based on why you feel drawn to share details with someone. For example, if you have a friend going through a similar situation, you may share your experiences to let them know they aren’t alone. If you’re struggling, talking to someone about mental health is a great way to lead into asking for help. Here are some tips and reminders to help you approach the conversation:

  • The best information to share is the amount you’re comfortable sharing. It’s okay if you don’t want to share everything. You can always share more later if you wish.
  • Practice what you want to say before the conversation. It’s not silly to practice before the conversation. Jot down a few notes, and practice stating your truth. Sometimes it helps to know that your conversation with a friend isn’t the first time you’ve ever said the words aloud.
  • Some mental health issues make you want to withdraw from people, making maintaining friendships difficult sometimes. Sharing a little now might help you in a big way later. Letting your friends know you’re struggling with mental health and don’t secretly hate spending time with them– you’re just having a hard time.
  • These conversations get easier with time. This is a primary reason why talking about mental health is important. The words become more manageable as you get more experienced in having these conversations. Just give it time and be patient with yourself.

For more conversation starters, visit Seize the Awkward.

How to Talk with Someone About Their Mental Health

Sharing personal information with someone is challenging for several reasons. You can never be sure how someone will react to what you tell them. So, if you have a friend who wants to share sensitive information with you, here are a few tips to ensure the conversation goes smoothly.

Listen Intently 

When you’re sharing sensitive information, it can be difficult. But, as the listener, you want to do just that. Listen. Let them get everything they want to say out, then respond.

Don’t Judge or Minimize

Judgmental responses or minimizing their feelings will only cause more harm. Instead, try focusing on being supportive instead of commenting on the validity of what they’re saying.

Let Them Know You’re Here to Listen

Mental health struggles are ongoing, so your friend may need more support. Let them know that you’re here to support them but place any boundaries you need to maintain your mental health. For example, you could say, “I’m here for you when you need to talk but give me a heads up so I can make sure I’m available beforehand.”

Don’t Share This Information with Anyone Else

If the person is telling you personal information, they might not be ready to share these details with others yet. Therefore, be sensitive and don’t discuss this information with outside parties unless and until you are told it’s okay. 

If Your Friend Is a Danger to Themselves or Others, Tell a Trusted Adult

In most cases, you don’t want to share someone’s sensitive information with people they have not consented to share it with. However, if someone tells you something that signifies they are a danger to themselves or others, you must tell an adult. Some things that might suggest your friend is in trouble include:

  • Plans to hurt themselves or others
  • Hearing voices or seeing things that no one else can
  • Information about an inappropriate or abusive relationship

If you’re unsure whom to talk to, text or call a crisis line or 911.

How to Talk to Parents About Mental Health

Talking to a parent, guardian, or other trusted adult is a solid first step to getting help. These conversations are hard to have even when you have a healthy, trusting relationship with the adult, so here are some tips to help you:

Have a Plan

Think about what you’re experiencing and write it down. Try to think of specific examples to help give them a clear idea of the situation. It may even help to start the conversation by telling them how difficult it is to share this information. 

Set a Time and Location for the Conversation

Planning when and where you will have the conversation ahead of time can signal to your parent or guardian that the discussion is serious. It also ensures you’ll have the privacy you need to discuss the details of your situation.

Be Clear About What You Want to Happen Next

If you have an idea about what you’d like the next course of action to be, let them know during the conversation. It could be as simple as wanting them to check in on you more often. You may even want to make an appointment with your primary care provider or a mental health specialist. Of course, there’s no wrong way to ask for help. But, if you’re unsure what to do next, ask for suggestions. This conversation opens the door for your parent or guardian to support you.

Explain Which Solutions You’ve Tried Already

Mental healthcare hasn’t always been normalized the way it is now. If you have never had conversations with your parents about mental health, this may be an uncomfortable topic for them to discuss. Share with them your experiences and your desires to seek additional help. Let them know what solutions you’ve implemented while attempting to manage your symptoms. Tell them that you’ve exhausted the solutions accessible to you as a teen, and you’re coming to them because you need additional help.

Show Them That There Are Low and No-Cost Resources

Medical expenses are higher than ever, so your parents may have questions like “How much is a mental health evaluation?” Alternatively, they may not know how to find you the care you need. It may be helpful to share low and no-cost resources you can access. Head to this hub’s Treatment Options and Paying for mental health treatment areas in the Finding Help section for resources. 

Talk to Someone Different

Speak to another trusted adult if your parent or guardian isn’t taking you seriously. They can either help you get the help you need or advocate for you to your parent or guardian. If you don’t know anyone who might be a good fit to help, check which resources are available at school or through your local YMCA.

How to Talk with Your Healthcare Provider

Talking to a healthcare provider seems intimidating, but their job is to ensure you’re taken care of. So before you head to your appointment, here are a few tips to help you maximize your time.

Prepare Ahead of Time

Doctors have predetermined time limits for each appointment to keep their schedules moving throughout the day. To make the most of your appointment time, jot down any questions or concerns so you don’t have to think of them on the spot. For example, your doctor may ask you questions about your symptoms, like when they started, their severity, and recent changes or stressors. Be prepared to answer specific questions like that.

Don’t Go Alone

During your appointment, your doctor may share information about your concerns that may be upsetting. They also may introduce complex concepts to understand in the limited time you have together for your appointment. Having a friend or family member there to support you and help take notes could bring much-needed comfort.

Be Honest

Your doctor’s appointment is not the time to be shy about what’s happening with you. Your doctor won’t be fazed even if you feel embarrassed by what you’re telling them. Thanks to privacy laws, your conversation with your doctor will stay between you two, so be honest, specific, and thorough about your symptoms and concerns. There are no stupid questions. Look through all the sections in this hub about mental health conditions and note any feelings you resonate with before your appointment. Then, be sure to mention all your concerns to your doctor. It’s helpful to have a paper trail of conversations, especially if you plan to seek a diagnosis. 

Ask Questions

Not only is your doctor there to ensure you’re in good health, but they can also give you a deeper understanding of any health problems you experience. If you’re curious about a mental health diagnosis, ask. If your doctor tells you something you don’t fully grasp, ask them for clarification. They can provide you with pamphlets, websites, and more to understand better any physical or mental health problems you experience. 

For Parents

How to Talk with Your Teen Who May Be Struggling

If you think your child or teen is struggling with mental health issues, first check your suspicions against these symptoms the NIH lists as signs your child may benefit from evaluation:

If your child is young, symptoms of mental health problems can include:

  • Excessive and intense tantrums
  • Frequent expression of fear or worry 
  • Stomachaches or headaches with no medical cause
  • Constant motion or hyperactivity
  • Trouble sitting still
  • Excessive sleeping
  • Too little sleep
  • Excessive nightmares
  • Little to no interest in playing with other children
  • Struggling in school
  • Constant fear that something terrible will happen

If you have an older child or teen/adolescent, symptoms of mental health problems can include:

  • Losing interest in former hobbies
  • Low energy
  • Excessive sleep
  • Too little sleep
  • Isolating themselves
  • Obsessive dieting or exercise
  • Fear of gaining weight
  • Self-harming (cutting, burning, etc.)
  • Smoking, drinking alcohol, doing drugs
  • Engaging in risky behavior
  • Communicated suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide
  • Periods of high energy with little sleep
  • Communicate that they can’t control their thoughts
  • Hallucinations
  • Hearing voices

If your teen seems to be hiding their struggles from you, talk to them about it. Here are a few tips to help you prepare for the conversation:

Don’t Blame Them

If you’ve never struggled with mental health issues, it’s easy to think that a child is exaggerating their feelings. Remember that if your child feels it is important enough to talk to you about, respect them by taking them seriously. Avoid placing blame by saying things like they “aren’t trying hard enough.” Often, it is difficult for people to control mental health issues. Make sure to express compassion and be empathic. 

Use Analogies

Your child may be too young to understand mental health issues, but you can help by using analogies. For example, they’ve likely learned that if you go to the doctor, you’re not feeling well (stomach hurts, head hurts – keep it simple). Let them know that mental health issues work the same way and that there’s a different doctor you visit for help.

Have a Conversation

Don’t let this experience turn into a lecture. Give your child a chance to speak and ask questions. Set the stage for them to feel comfortable talking about issues that may be embarrassing to say out loud. Often, these are new concepts that they will need help understanding. Let them know that it’s not their fault and that mental health issues are nothing to be ashamed of. 

Don’t Be Afraid to Talk About Suicide

Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States. Talking about suicide with your child could help them begin understanding their feelings and be more open to getting treatment. The conversation won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

Talk About Self Care

Teaching your child about the importance of self-care as a preventative measure early on is a great way to help them develop healthy self-soothing techniques. Mental health issues can make people feel powerless, too, and conversations about self-care strategies can put some of the power back in your child’s hands.