Opening up to friends & family

Mental health struggles are not something anyone needs to take on alone. Having support, even from one person, can make a huge difference. This guide will help you feel more comfortable reaching out and opening up to those closest to you.
Group of friends looking at their phones and talking

Why should I do it?

Being vulnerable is scary because it opens us up to the unknown (“What will they say?”) and even the possibility of rejection. This is especially true for mental health—many people have their own preconceived notions or cultural beliefs that shape their understanding of mental health. 

Social media can make us more uncertain: Everyone seems to be their best selves at all times. But, even if someone seems like they’re perfect, it’s important to remember that it’s not their reality. This fake reality can sometimes lead folks to feel like they’re different or alone. While feeling different or alone doesn’t feel great, it’s important to recognize that being vulnerable is a strength—not a weakness. It takes courage. 

It may feel especially difficult to be vulnerable with those you care about. But, opening up about your struggles to those closest to you can help them better understand and empathize with how you’re feeling, especially if you’re going through a tough time. While physical wounds are more visible, the internal pain we feel has to be communicated to be fully seen. 

Having friends and family understand what you’re going through—both positive and challenging—can improve your mood and allow them to provide support that they (or you) otherwise might not realize you need. While not a replacement for talk therapy with a professional, finding the strength to let others in your life know you’re struggling can be an important step toward healing. You only need to start by telling one person.

How and when should I talk about my mental health?

There are a few things to keep in mind before opening up about how you’re feeling to someone you love. Sometimes these conversations will happen organically, but in an ideal world, you can plan for yourself to have more control. 


It’s worth it to prepare ahead of time for conversations so you’re able to articulate everything you want to say. This can be accomplished by writing down your thoughts or even by using a voice recording app on your phone. 

You might have a lot of feelings that have been left unsaid for some time, and some decisions to make about what you are ready to say right now. You don’t have to tell someone all of the details right away if you don’t feel like it, but even mentioning you’ve been struggling is a huge first step. Being thoughtful about what you want to say—and not say—ahead of time can set you up for a successful interaction.


Make sure the conversation occurs at a time and place where you’re both comfortable. Talking in person may be best because it’s the most direct and most intimate. But if talking in person isn’t possible, consider what alternative mode of communication suits you best and allows you to feel your most confident. Remember that while we are used to texting, emotions are often hard to convey through words alone.


Try to make sure you’re in a state of mind when you feel comfortable enough to have a potentially tough conversation. Having a clear mind will help you remember the things you want to express and not express, and will allow you to have more control over your narrative and your reactions.


It’s important to remember that, while you’ve had time to prepare how you’d like to express yourself, your loved one hasn’t. It’s entirely possible they might need some time to digest and process what you’ve shared. 

They might not reply in a way that you were expecting or feel good about. Don’t put pressure to solve everything with one conversation, and know you can’t control anyone’s reactions or feelings, not even your own. Think of this as the important first step of a longer journey towards finding support.  

Be kind to yourself for whatever emotions come up with the conversation and allow yourself time to reflect and do self-care afterward (go for a walk, journal, or take a bath, for example).

How and when should I talk to a loved one about their mental health?

If you sense your loved one is struggling with their mental health and want to provide support, starting a conversation may feel daunting. You may worry about saying the wrong thing, and want to come off as supportive. It may be that no one taught you how to have these conversations, so it feels hard. 

That being said, if a loved one trusts in you, it’s important you feel comfortable being there for them, at least initially. While not a complete list, here are a few potential ways to approach the conversation in a safe way:

  • Make sure you’re in a quiet environment where you can both provide your undivided attention. It is best if this is a private location that feels safe for everyone.
  • If your loved one is speaking, focus on listening rather than providing direct advice or drawing on your own experiences. It can be tempting to jump in to argue your own case based on your memory or experience, but their feelings are always valid. Allow them time to speak and space to feel. Acknowledge how hard it must be for them to tell you their story. 
  • Be nonjudgmental in your tone and approach when starting the conversation, and throughout. An example of a potential conversation starter might be, “I’ve noticed you haven’t seemed like yourself lately. Is there anything you’d like to talk about? I’m here to listen.” Open-ended statements allow them to talk about what they are feeling, and allow you to be supportive and listen.
  • Don’t feel pressure to fix the situation. Being a thoughtful listener is incredibly valuable, more than we often give it credit for. Try not to jump in and immediately give advice or fix the situation. If it seems like your loved one might require help you can’t provide, you should encourage them to seek professional help. Express that you’re suggesting this from a place of love. You might even support them in connecting to help.
  • Follow up with your loved one. These conversations take time and often one conversation is just the beginning. Be sure to check in on your loved one. Ask them how they like to be followed-up with. Find out from them how they’d prefer for you to express concerns about things you are noticing with them. It gives them power in the relationship when vulnerability feels hard to manage.
  • Take care of yourself, too. Having a loved one who is struggling can affect your mental health. Be aware that you might need to set boundaries around your support, and that’s OK. Taking time for yourself can make you more present when you are able to support your loved one. You might also need to do your own self-care or therapy, and that’s OK, too.

What’s the difference between talking to a loved one and talking to a therapist?

There are a few notable differences between speaking to a therapist or psychiatrist about your mental health and speaking to a loved one. Neither, however, is a replacement for the other and both are important for mental health support.


A mental health provider or therapist can provide an objective, qualified perspective on your situation and circumstances. This isn’t necessarily the case when it comes to those closest to you, who already have cultivated a deeply ingrained impression of you. The space a therapist can provide can be especially helpful when we need to openly express feelings about our loved ones as well.


While a therapist is legally bound to keep what you disclose to them private unless there’s a threat of harm to yourself or others, you should consider that everything you share with your loved one might not necessarily stay between the two of you. It may also be harder to share some things with a loved one if it’s about someone they know or even about them.


A therapist will be entirely honest with you and provide their undivided attention as you express yourself fully. While loved ones can provide valuable advice and comfort, they aren’t trained to provide support in the same way a therapist is. A therapist is not your friend, but there to help you make sense of your stressors and thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. They are also able to provide skills and coping mechanisms that friends and family do not know.

Learn more about therapy

What steps can I take right now?

When you choose to open up is entirely up to you—it is your experience and your story after all. That being said, being open about your mental health can be an intimidating process, and that’s why it can be helpful to break it down into smaller tasks that build towards your ultimate goal: 

  1. Write down what you’d like to express. Putting pen to paper (or fingers to phone) is a good way to articulate your thoughts while still keeping them private until you’re ready to share. You can start by journaling your thoughts and feelings. Don’t worry about structure or goal or judgment at first. Doing this can eventually lead you to more specific topic outlines for your conversation with a loved one.
  2. Figure out when and where you’d like to connect. Brainstorm when and where might be an ideal setting to open up. You can write down a few options, then go with whichever makes you feel most comfortable. 
  3. Think about which loved one you want to talk to. It can be tempting to want to tell all of the people in our inner circle once we are ready to disclose, but it’s important to rip off the band-aid by just starting with one. Think about who you would feel most comfortable being open with and who would be best in responding to and supporting you. This can be hard to predict, of course, but you might have an idea.
  4. Be kind to yourself. It takes incredible courage and bravery to be open with another person when you’re struggling. It’s natural to have fears and doubts but allow yourself a moment to feel proud for deciding to take this important step toward feeling better. 
  5. Make plans for self-care during and afterward. It’s important to know that you’ll have feelings and reactions that come up when talking about your mental health, especially if it’s the first time. Just as you plan your conversation, plan your self-care. 
  • Website
    Seize the Awkward
    Starting a conversation about mental health does not need to be uncomfortable, and it can make all the difference. Check out these resources to learn how to support a friend – or get help for yourself.
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    Sound It Out Together
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Learn more about finding support