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Opening up about your mental health – for young people

A guide for young people on talking to friends and family about how you're feeling.

This page is also available in Welsh.

Talking to friends and family

Talking to people who care about you can be really good for your mental health. But it might be scary, or you might not know where to start. Are you nervous about telling your friends and family what's going on? Don't know how to start the conversation? We're here to help you find a way.

Below we have information on the following:

Why should I tell someone about how I feel?

It can be normal to worry about telling someone how you feel but trying to deal with things on your own can make things feel worse. Talking to someone you trust can help you to:

  • feel like you're not alone
  • feel supported by the people around you
  • find treatment and support options to help with how you're feeling
  • stop things from getting worse
  • find out that other people have been through similar things.

“I confided in a friend first – it was a huge relief to find out she sometimes experienced similar things and for the first time I felt I was understood.”

How do I know who I can trust?

Deciding who to talk to can be hard. Try to think of someone you trust who:

  • has supported you before when things have been difficult
  • is kind, understanding and a good listener
  • you feel safe around
  • might have gone through a similar experience.

Getting ready to tell them

If you're worried about telling someone how you feel, it can help to feel prepared for the conversation. Here are some things you could think about:

Find a way that feels right for you – sometimes you might want to talk face-to-face but if this feels too difficult you could try:

  • talking on the phone
  • sending a text or email
  • writing a letter – Childline have a letter template if you need help deciding what to say
  • drawing how you feel.

Find a good time – the time may never feel perfect, but it can help if it's when they can give you their full attention and it's in a place where you feel comfortable.

Some people find it helps to have the conversation whilst doing something together, like going for a walk, so you feel more comfortable and the focus isn't just on you.

Practise what you want to say – this could be in your head or with a friend. You could even try writing things down.

“Talking to an anonymous source first (in my case, Samaritans) helped build confidence that what I was experiencing wasn’t abnormal.”

What should I say?

Finding the words to tell someone how you're feeling can sometimes be really hard. Here are some tips that might help:

Think about how to start – Sometimes knowing how you're going to start the conversation can make you feel more confident. We have some conversation starters below to give you some ideas.

Conversation starters

There are no right or wrong things to say but if you're finding it difficult, you could start by saying:

'This is difficult for me to talk about but I need to tell you something.'
'I've got some things on my mind, can we talk sometime?'
'I've been feeling _____ lately, and I'm trying to tell you about it because ____'.

You might find it helps to ask the person you're telling to wait until you have finished talking to respond.

Explain how you've been feeling – and how this affects other parts of your life, like your eating, sleep and how you've been feeling at school or college.

Try finding useful information or examples – if you've seen something on TV, online or in a book that feels similar to what you're experiencing, you could show them this to help explain how you're feeling.

For example, you could say "Have you been watching the TV series about…", "What do you think about the character who is experiencing…"

Suggest things they could do to help – like helping you find information, talking to your school, making a doctors appointment for you or just being there to listen and support you.

Only share what you're comfortable with – you don't need to tell them everything at once. Just tell them what you can.

“The best time I’ve found to speak is when doing something else, like walking, to ease the pressure of looking at someone face-to-face.”

What if they tell someone what I've told them?

When you tell someone about how you're feeling, it can be normal to want them to keep what you've said private, but they might need to tell someone else if they:

  • are worried about you – so need to let someone else know, like your parent, teacher or doctor to make sure you are safe
  • want to find support for you
  • need support for themselves – because they are upset or confused about what you've told them and they don't know how to help.

If you are worried about them telling someone else, it might help to explain why you don't want others to find out and ask them to let you know if they do plan to tell anyone else.

Asking a friend to keep a secret

Asking a friend to promise not to tell anyone or keep what you've told them a secret can put a lot of pressure on them. It's important to remember that they might need to talk to someone they trust if they are worried about you and are not sure what they should do.

What if they don't understand?

Sometimes we don't get the reaction we want when we talk to our friends and family about how we're feeling. If they don't understand or don't take you seriously, it isn't your fault. It could be that they feel shocked and just need time to think about what you've told them.

Even if you feel hurt, it might help to try talking to someone else you trust or just give them time and try again. Maybe you could try a different way of telling them, like writing a letter.

If they still don't understand, it might help to say "you might not understand why I feel the way I do, but I need you to accept it and help me by... "

“Because this one person reacted negatively doesn't mean everyone will. This also doesn't mean that you don’t deserve the support you need.”

What if I don't have anyone to talk to?

If you feel like you can't talk to your friends of family about what's going on, or they just don't understand, it could help to try talking to:

  • someone at school you trust, like a teacher
  • your doctor
  • an organisation trained to listen and support you, like Childline or The Mix.

The most important thing is that you get support for how you're feeling.

“Sharing how I was feeling was the best decision I made."

This information was published in June 2019. We will revise it in 2022.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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