Starting the conversation with someone
Talking about your mental health or social and emotional wellbeing isn’t always easy. But having that conversation can make a big difference to your health and wellbeing.
There can be many reasons for not wanting to open up. You may come from a culture or community that has a negative attitude towards mental health. You may also have had difficult experiences due to racism or discrimination, or feeling like you were misunderstood.
But keeping things to yourself and letting things build up can make things worse. While it can be hard finding the right person to talk to, remember that you decide what to say, whom to say it to, and when to have the conversation.
It can also be helpful to remember that you have people in your life who care about you and who are in your corner. They may help you problem-solve, research options, get ideas for next steps, and help you get support sooner. It can also be a relief to share your experience.
Are you under 18?
It can be hard or scary to reach out to someone about how you're feeling, but it's important to talk about what's going on. Get tips for young people on how to reach out.
Tips for getting started
Starting the conversation is often the toughest part. You may be uncomfortable sharing your feelings and experiences, or nervous about how the other person will react. But there are things you can do to prepare for the conversation:
Try and find a time to talk where neither of you will be interrupted, and think about how long you might need.
You may find it easier to talk when you’re both doing something such as going for a walk, doing an activity together, or going for a drive.
Remember that you’re in control, and you get to decide how much you are comfortable sharing. You don’t have to answer all the other person’s questions at once. You can say only as much as you are ready to share at that time.
If you’re not ready to have this conversation face-to-face yet, doing it over a phone call is an effective alternative.
Writing it down first can help you prepare what you want to say. It can also be therapeutic and help to organise your thoughts. You may find sharing your thoughts as a letter or story easier than talking about it, at first.
Whoever you choose to talk to first, make sure they’re someone you trust and who you think will listen and understand.
If you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone you know, there are other options available, such as:
- talking to a GP
- calling a helpline
- accessing mental health support services (for example a peer support forum).
How to have the conversation
Depending on your situation, you may need to tell different people in your life about your mental health challenges. Along with all the tips above, there are further things to consider depending on who you have the conversation with. Choose the situation that applies to you from the list below.
Dealing with negativity
Everyone has their own understanding of mental health and wellbeing. While there is lots of effort going into educating people about mental health, some people still have negative views. The reason for this can be stigma.
A stigma is a negative attitude towards a person or group due to what is seen as a difference. For example, someone may judge or make assumptions about you based on the mental health challenges you’re facing, or because they perceive you as being different from societal norms.
Some of this negativity may come from people you’re not very close with, but it can also come from people you don’t expect it to. That can be disappointing and hard to deal with.
Some people will change their views and become more accepting or positive as they learn more, or with time.
There are ways you can deal with stigma or negative views:
- Understand that your mental health challenges don’t define who you are. There are a range of helpful supports and treatments available. There are also tools and people to help you find the right ones for you.
- Know that 1 in 5 people in Australia experience a mental illness each year. It doesn’t mean you’re weak or need to toughen up. We all need support at different times. There are many positive stories of people managing their mental health, recovering, and thriving.
- Connect with others. Joining a support group or taking part in a forum or chat can help you realise you are not alone, and that others are going through similar things.
- Learn more about your mental health and wellbeing. Read online or talk to health professionals. Being informed helps you to understand what you’re experiencing.
- Focus on what you can control. People’s negative attitudes often come from a place of ignorance. You can point them to information and resources if you like, but don’t feel like it is your job to educate them.
Most importantly, don’t let someone else’s views stop you from getting the help you need.