Mental illness can be hard to talk about. Letting your friends, family or employer know could be a positive experience or you might worry it will bring up more problems. That’s why it’s important to think carefully about whom to tell and when would be the best time.
Why tell anyone about my mental illness?
If you’re suffering from a mental health problem, such as depression, it can be very helpful to tell someone you trust. When people understand what you are going through, they can help by supporting you. You might find it helpful to talk to a health professional first - and there are also many mental health resources available.
They can guide you in the right direction and help you plan what to say.
How do I start the conversation?
Just thinking about how to start the conversation about your mental health concern can be overwhelming. It might be helpful to think about some common do's and don'ts of discussing mental health issues. Below are some suggestions for how you can talk to the important people in your life.
How do I tell my employer?
Your manager, human resources department or union may be a good place to start when speaking to your employer. The Heads Up workplace disclosure tool can help you:
- make sure you can explain your health issue in a clear way
- only share details that you are comfortable with
- think about where and when is the best place to tell your employer
- have a plan in case the conversation becomes negative or you get upset.
How do I tell my friends?
Choose which friends you want to talk to and which ones you don’t. Try to tell only people you think will be supportive. When you are ready:
- find a place where you can have privacy
- make sure you both have enough time to talk
- prepare examples of how your mental health concern has affected you
- let them know the details you want kept private
- be clear with people about when you want their advice and when you just want them to listen.
How do I tell my partner?
Think about how long you have been in your relationship. You don’t need to tell someone you just started seeing, but it might be best not to leave it too long. When you are ready:
- find a time when the other person is best able to receive the information
- find out about their attitude towards mental illness
- don’t disclose everything at once
- practise what you want to say beforehand with someone you trust.
How to deal with any stigma
If you have a mental illness, you might find that some people see you negatively. This stigma can be difficult to deal with. Learning some facts about your condition and talking to mental health professionals may help you deal with it better.
Where to get help
There are also many services that can help with advice about talking with your employer, family or friends:
- Heads Up, as well as the mental health workplace disclosure tool, also has mental health resources covering how to tell someone at work about your mental health condition. You can also call the beyondblue Support Service on 1300 22 4636 or chat online.
- SANE Australia has a Guide to Mental Illness and the Workplace, written to help employers, your managers and your colleagues understand the impact of having a mental illness at work.
- On the ReachOut.com website (an online mental health service for young people), a university student discusses her experience with mental illness stigma and how she got through it.
- Head to Health - for advice, assessment and referral into local mental health services - call 1800 595 212 from 8:30am to 5pm on weekdays (public holidays excluded)
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Last reviewed: May 2020