How to talk to a safe adult about mental illness

By OnYourMind Staff

Thinking about talking to an adult about mental illness can feel scary. How will they react? What will they say? When we are struggling with mental illness, the thought of more judgment or invalidation can feel overwhelming on top of what you are already experiencing. 

However, talking to a safe adult can be an important step in getting support for mental illness. They can provide access to resources and treatments, or help by just listening and being there for you. 

How to identify a safe adult 

The first step is to identify a safe adult in your life. A lot of times this can be a parent or a guardian but it can also be a teacher, a counselor, or a mentor. A safe adult is a person who cares about your emotional, mental, and physical safety. They will want to listen and support you with your struggles, and you can trust them to help you. 

Talking about hard things 

It can be really hard to figure out how to bring up difficult topics around mental health and mental illness symptoms. Usually, there is no “perfect” time, but here are some strategies that may be helpful in talking to safe adults about your struggles. 

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Writing things down 

One great tip that can help is writing down what you want to say ahead of time. This can also help gather your thoughts about what you are feeling and what you want to communicate. You can use any method- brainstorms, bullet point lists, or even a letter format. 

Often, talking about mental illness can be really emotional. If you have been suffering silently, talking about what you are experiencing can bring up sadness, anger, or just feel scary. Having a list or a written plan of what to say can help so you don’t feel so overwhelmed. 

Talking about talking about it 

Prefacing hard topics with how hard it is for you to talk about them can be a good way to communicate how important the topic is and help the other person feel empathy before bringing up the main issues you want to talk about. 

This can look like saying “I need to talk to you about something but I’m really scared about how you will react. This is really hard for me.” This can help set their expectations that they need to really listen to what you are trying to communicate. 

How to ask for support

Focusing on communicating how you are feeling about your experiences with mental illness can help the other person understand you better. A good example of this is saying something like “I’ve been feeling so alone and so sad. I feel like I need help.” Expressing your feelings can give the other person more information and context about what you have been going through. 

Another good thing to keep in mind what you really want from this conversation. Do you want to see a therapist? Just have them listen and try to understand? Or maybe you don’t know? Just simply stating that can help people understand what you want and need. Below are some examples of what you might say: 

Four friends stand in a line with their arms around eat other, facing a sunset over mountains.

“I’ve been having dark thoughts and I don’t know what to do. It’s making me feel really scared.” 

“I just need someone to listen to me and not try to fix things.” 

“I’ve been really struggling. I think I want to see a therapist.” 

What to do when it doesn’t go well

Sometimes even when you prepare, the conversation can not go the way you planned. Maybe the person you try to speak to has a big emotional reaction or says something hurtful and dismissive. It could be that hearing how you are feeling is too hard for them, or maybe they have certain beliefs about mental illness that invalidate your feelings or symptoms. 

It’s important to remember if this happens that no matter what anyone else says, your experience of your feelings is valid. You deserve to get the support you need. There are ways to help anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. It can get better and you are not alone. 

If a conversation doesn’t go well, try to be kind to yourself. Take a walk or take some deep breaths. Do an activity that makes you feel good, or maybe just takes your mind off things for a little while. 

If you need to talk to someone, you are always welcome to chat with On Your Mind peer counselors during our open hours of 4:30pm to 9:30pm PST. We will listen without judgment and can help connect you to resources if that is what you need. Click here to go to the chat.

If you need help immediately, you can call the national crisis line at 1-800-273-8255 at any time. 

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