How to talk about your mental health if you’re struggling

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Lead GP at Livi Dr Rhianna McClymont
Dr Rhianna McClymont, Lead GP at Livi
Too many of us don’t feel able to speak out about our feelings, especially when we’re not at our best. Here’s our advice for talking about your mental health with the people who can help

Need to speak to a GP today?

Book appointment

Opening up about mental health isn’t always easy, but looking for help is the first step towards getting and staying well. As many as 1 in 5 adults have experienced depressive symptoms so far in 2021 – more than double the proportion before the Covid-19 pandemic – but many of us aren’t accessing the support and treatment we need.

If you’re struggling to talk about your mental health – whether it’s anxiety, depression or another condition – you’re not alone,’ says Dr Rhianna McClymont, Lead GP at Livi. ‘There’s lots of help and support available. You just have to reach out to get it. It doesn’t really matter how you tell someone, as long as you do.’

How to talk about your mental health with family and friends

Whether you’re concerned about burdening your loved ones or other people’s judgement, it can be difficult to talk about your feelings. ‘It’s important to remember that the people closest to you are often the most valuable source of support,’ says Dr Cecilia Radecka, a Livi psychologist. ‘We often underestimate how much our loved ones can help.’

Be as honest and open as you can

Explaining how you’re feeling can allow others to understand what you’re experiencing. If you think describing your condition or how you’re feeling might be overwhelming, show them an article from a book or website.

Think about what you want from the conversation

Explaining to your family or friends what you want from the discussion can help them understand the best way to help you – this may be simply listening, offering emotional support or helping you access practical help.

Don’t expect too much from the initial conversation

Although mental health problems are very common, sometimes they can be difficult to understand. You may discover that the person you’re speaking to has had similar experiences or knows someone who has, which can help you feel less alone. Give them time to process what you’ve said, and plan to come back to the conversation at some point.

Conversation starters

Some useful ways to start a conversation with friends or family could include:

  • ‘I’ve been struggling with my feelings lately.’
  • ‘I’m not feeling like myself. Do you mind listening to what I’m going through?’
  • ‘I know we don’t talk much, but I’m having a tough time. Can I give you a call?’

How to talk about your mental health with a doctor

Doctors are there to help and can advise you on treatments and support available. They’re also familiar with mental health conditions, so there’s no need to feel embarrassed or ashamed. In the UK, for example, 40% of doctor appointments are now mental health-related.

‘In some cases, it might be necessary to consult a doctor if you notice physical symptoms or need advice about medication,’ says Dr Radecka. ‘Speaking to a psychologist or therapist can also help if you’re struggling with depression or anxiety.’

1. Write down what you want to say

Make a list of the things you want to talk about before the appointment. This might include questions to ask or words or phrases that represent how you feel. That way, if your mind goes blank during your appointment, you’ll have notes to refer to.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask for more information

A doctor should discuss different treatment options with you, whether it’s talking therapies or medication. Always ask for more information if you need it.

3. Be transparent about how you’re feeling

This is your opportunity to give the doctor as much information as you’re comfortable with. If the doctor feels that your job is affecting your mental health or you’d benefit from some time off, they may sign you off work. A doctor can make an assessment based on your symptoms and provide you with a note advising you of the length of time to take off.

4. Conversation starters

At your doctor’s appointment, it’s a good idea to be prepared to get the most out of it. Here are some useful ways to start your conservation:

  • ‘I’ve been feeling this way for [X amount of time].’
  • ‘I’d like to see what support is available for how I’ve been feeling.’

How to talk about your mental health with your employer

Your mental health can affect all areas of your life, including your work. Many of us will hesitate to bring a mental health problem up at work, for fear of being judged or not being taken seriously. A US report found that nearly 60% of employees have never spoken about their mental health to anyone at work.

However, good employers are there to support you to do the best job possible, so it’s worth speaking to them about the issues you’re facing.

‘Showing that you need help from your employer is one of the bravest things you can do,’ says Dr Radecka. ‘It’s maybe not the easiest, but when we avoid the things we fear, we tend to increase negative thinking surrounding it.

‘More often than not, employers will appreciate you coming forward with your feelings and will understand.’

1. Choose whether you want to talk to your doctor or boss first

‘If you’re suffering from work-related stress, it’s justifiable to speak to your employer first,’ says Dr McClymont. ‘Often, if an employer can improve the work situation, you won’t need anything else.

‘But if your problems are separate from work, I’d say get the right help from your doctor first. A doctor’s note may be helpful to explain your situation, particularly if you might need some time off.’

2. Think about what you want to get from the conservation

If you or your workplace can make adjustments to help you do your job and protect your mental health, it’s worth writing these down to discuss. These might include being allowed time off for treatment or changes to your working hours or working area.

3. Speak to HR if you’re not comfortable talking to your boss

It’s your choice who to speak to, whether it’s human resources or your supervisor or manager. Book a time to chat in a private room or somewhere you feel comfortable.

4. Conversation starters

Starting a conversation with your boss might seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Try these conversation starters:

  • ‘I need to talk to you – do you have time to listen?’
  • ‘I’ve been struggling with a lot of stress and would like to talk about making some changes to my workload.’
  • ‘I need to make my mental health more of a priority. Can we talk about adjusting my hours?’

How to get help during a mental health crisis

It’s important to have a conversation with a doctor if you can’t manage your mental health on your own any more. Local urgent mental health crisis teams are available 24 hours a day for advice and support.

If you reach the stage where you’re at serious risk of harming yourself or having suicidal thoughts, call 111 or 999 for emergency help. Or go straight to A&E – the doctors there are experienced in providing mental health help in a crisis. Alternatively, the Samaritans are available at any time by calling 116 123.

Speak to a GP

If you’d like to discuss your symptoms and get help, book an appointment with a doctor.

Book appointment

Get expert advice and tips

Sign up to get the best of our health content delivered right to your inbox.