How to Talk to Friends and Family About Your Mental Illness

By Gaan Akers, LPC, NCC | September 7, 2017

mental health clinics in Atlanta
It can be difficult to talk about mental illness with family and friends. There is a negative stigma in our society attached to people with mental health issues. You may want to discuss mental illness with friends, for instance, but fear harsh judgments. When a mental illness becomes part of your life, either through personal experience or from one of your children, it is helpful to know how to talk to your friends and family about it.

Tips for Discussing Mental Illness

The traditional way to discuss mental illness was to speak as though it were happening to someone else or to use euphemisms to avoid saying the words. These methods do not work. They are awkward and may add more distance in your relationships than not talking about it at all.

The decision to discuss mental illness with friends is a personal one. If you decide to do it, here are some tips to make it a little easier:

  • Start with one person — Having a one-on-one conversation with a person you trust the most is a good place to start. When you have that person’s support, it will be easier to share your thoughts with others in your circle of friends.
  • Take it slow — You are experienced now in dealing with and talking about mental illness, but your friend or family member may be hearing these things for the first time. Do not overwhelm your friends with too much information all at once.
  • Define your purpose — Understand before you begin this conversation what your goal is. Are you just trying to inform your family about your condition, diagnosis, prognosis or efforts to cope with mental illness? Are you looking for sympathy, empathy or support? If you clearly define the purpose of your conversation, it may be easier to bring it to a successful conclusion.
  • Prepare for the unexpected — Not everyone can handle supporting a friend or loved one with a mental disorder. Your news may be interpreted as a threat to your friendship. People tend to think about themselves first and how your information affects them, so prepare for a variety of possible reactions — even if they are unexpected.

It can be even more difficult for your child to talk to you or others about mental illness. Children often carry the burden of trying to please their parents, and they may see mental illness as a way of letting you down. Children are always aware of the hierarchical dynamic in the parent-child relation and may be afraid of punishment or negative consequences.. They may be afraid of punishment or the withdrawal of your love.

Reassuring your child you love them no matter what can help make these discussions easier. Also, listening without judgment is an important skill for you to display in these situations. When your child tells you they feel ugly, telling them they are wrong to think that may seem like the right response, but it isn’t. It is better to empathize with your child’s feelings than to contradict them. The connection you make by telling them you feel ugly sometimes, too, will increase their comfort in sharing their feelings with you.

Contact The Best Mental Health Clinic In Atlanta, Georgia

For more information about how to talk to family and friends about mental illness, contact Hillside. We are one of the premier mental health clinics in the Atlanta area for treating children, teens and young adults with mental health issues.


  • Gaan Akers, LPC, NCC

    Director of Clinical Education & Outreach - Gaan has been working with children, adolescents, and families for over 10 years in various settings. In her current role, she provides education and training for mental health professionals, parents, and the community. She lives in Atlanta with her husband. In her free time, she enjoys reading, hiking, climbing, and cooking. She is a donut aficionado and a national park enthusiast!

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