How to Talk About Mental Health with Your Loved Ones

Mental health and addiction

Nearly three years into the pandemic, mental health concerns are top of mind. Students are more comfortable than ever voicing their concerns, speaking up, and demanding access to the services they need. Of course, this can be difficult, even on a good day — let alone when you're dealing with virtual classes and services.

We know from research at the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health, that in any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians experiences a problem with mental health or addiction. Young people between 15 and 24 are most likely to suffer. Often, mental health issues co-occur with substance abuse disorders. This can be a problem on campus, where stress is high, deadlines are tight, and drugs are plentiful. Compounding the issue further are long wait times for counselling and therapy: six months to a year is common in Ontario.

Unfortunately, these numbers are only getting worse, as we collectively suffer an epidemic of loneliness and alienation.

Get talking

Clearly, these issues are prevalent, and shining light is the best way to understand and address them. If you're one of the many struggling post-secondary students who feel exhausted, depressed, or lonely, please, talk to somebody. Open up to a friend, family member, crisis helpline, or campus counselling staff. There's no reason to suffer alone.

If you're in school, you might have access to a guidance counsellor or health and wellness support staff to help you. Making an appointment may not be easy — demand often outpaces supply — but many schools are actively investing in mental health services. Still, your best bet may be to talk with family or friends.

How to talk about mental health issues with friends and family

If you're experiencing a crisis, consider one of the many helplines available across Canada — or, if you're concerned you may harm yourself or others, dail 911. Otherwise, here's some advice on when to open up about what you're going through:

  • When you're feeling well: delicate discussions like these are best had when you're feeling calm, and you're not under undue pressure.
  • When you're ready: this is key. Don't rush yourself. Talking about your struggles is a personal decision — but try not to put it off forever.

When you broach the topic, consider approaching the discussion in three related areas:

  • Process talk: this is talking about talking; setting the stage for opening up. Be honest that there's something bothering you and you'd like to talk it out.
  • Concrete examples: try to explain exactly what you mean by "mental illness" or "addiction." One or two specific instances that cause you stress can be helpful to build a shared understanding. Be as candid as you're comfortable being.
  • Suggested means of support: offer guidelines on how you feel you can best be supported. You may not know for sure, but giving some context will help your friends and family understand how and when to back you up.

Your loved ones' reactions may not be ideal. Try to gauge whether they treat you the same before and after your discussions. Though some folks may ghost you, it's important to have supportive, loving people in your life — and that means being vulnerable.

Remember, you don't need to disclose everything. Understand, set, and enforce your boundaries, and don't be afraid to talk about the positive sides of your experience, too. Share as much as you're comfortable with. You might also want to provide further reading and resources to help your loved ones understand what you're going through.

Moving forward together

The negative stigma around mental illness and addiction is slowly dissipating, and that's thanks in large part to those brave enough to speak up about their struggles. So, let's talk.

Today, hundreds of institutions across Canada are taking part in events around mental health. Consider opening up about your struggles to the people you love and trust the most.

Keep listening, keep talking and keep being there for yourself and each other. Stay safe.

Let's Talk - Student Digital Toolkit