How to bring up mental health issues with friends

Tasneem Abrahams
Aug 25th, 2016

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Dealing with a mental health issue like anxiety, depression or a body focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs) such as compulsive skin picking is challenging and it is important not to go through it on your own. However, as opposed to physical conditions that are outwardly recognizable, mental health disorders are often hidden. We may appear to be smiling and doing okay, but there can be turmoil raging inside of us. Going through life with these issues alone can put undue burdens on ourselves. Our friends and loved ones can be our greatest allies in our time of need, but first, we need to be honest about ourselves and open up to them.

Breaking the Silence

Here are 5 simple steps you can take to bring up your mental health issue with friends or family.

1. Set up a good time and place.

Wherever you go, just make sure you will not be interrupted. If you have family members or roommates who like to poke around your personal space when you are at home, it may be best to go somewhere serene like a park or coffee shop. Go at a time when you are the most alert so you will be feeling your best before bringing up the subject.

2. Prepare yourself for any reaction.

Now an overwhelming majority of our loved ones will understand. They will give us a hug and tell them how glad they are that we opened up to them. Sometimes, however, this revelation will trigger other emotions due to how much they care about us, and that's okay. Different people may handle your words differently because they are not well-informed and are afraid of what they don't understand.  The key is to not be offended at anyone's fear or apprehension. Everyone starts in their own place emotionally on this issue and they will grow in understanding over time.

3. Answer questions kindly and thoroughly.

You are guaranteed to get questions, so respectfully answer them. Provide information that is helpful. If you have a book or pamphlet with some facts about your condition, that would be a great stepping stone to anyone unfamiliar with it. Demystifying your condition can help them understand it, and more importantly, understand you.

4. Be patient.

If your friend or family member dodges the subject or wants to move on to another topic, let the water flow where it may. Your relationship will progress and over time you will find that it may become a more comfortable topic. Friendship is a place where both of you need to feel safe, so don't press boundaries. 

5. Be clear about your needs.

This is your time to be open and show your loved ones the real, beautiful you. If there is something they can do to help or support you in your journey, this is your chance to speak up. After all, clear expectations help by leaps and bounds in maintaining a healthy relationship. You can't control the emotions or reactions of your friends or family members, but you can be in charge of how you guide them toward understanding your mental health condition and how they can help you.

It is important to establish a network of support when dealing with a mental condition. If you do not feel confident in sharing with friends or family just yet, there are also numerous online support forums and groups that you could access. 


Tasneem Abrahams

Tasneem is an Occupational Therapist, and a graduate of the TLC foundation for BFRBs professional training institute. Her experience in mental health includes working at Lentegeur Psychiatric hospital forensic unit (South Africa), Kingston Community Adult Learning Disability team (UK), Clinical Specialist for the Oasis Project Spelthorne Community Mental Health team (UK). Tasneem is a member of both the editorial team and the clinical staff on Skinpick, providing online therapy for people who suffer from excoriation (skin picking) disorder.

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