How To Tell Someone You Have a Mental Illness

Here is a picture of me laughing in a sunflower field. I look fun, carefree and happy – and I am, but that wasn’t always the case. For years, anorexia nervosa stole those things from me. It’s hard to believe it myself when I look at this picture… when I see myself so full of life, that I was once so miserable. So for people who are new in my life and see the happy person I am now, I can imagine it might be difficult to understand what I once was.

I still get nervous to talk publicly about mental illness, yet, what makes me even more nervous is telling someone close to me for the first time that I had anorexia, whether it’s a partner or new friend. So, here’s what I’ve done in the past.  These tips have helped me and can hopefully help you too.


 This is yours.

First of all, it’s your story, and if you chose to share it, do it on your own time, no one else’s. It’s deeply personal to share your story so make sure you are at a place where you are comfortable in this new relationship. I’m not sure if you can plan exactly when to tell someone, for me, it’s happened when my gut tells me it’s right and I always trust my gut.


Don’t worry about the stigma.

1 in 5 Canadians will suffer from a mental illness in their lifetime, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. So directly or indirectly, we’re all impacted and thanks to initiatives like #BellLetsTalk, and Healthy is Hot, we’re finally talking about it. So if you’re worried about the stigma surrounding mental health, know that it’s slowly but surely breaking down. As a result, there isn’t the negativity attached to it that there once was. In the off chance this person responds negatively, use this time to educate. If that doesn’t work, reassess whether or not you want that person in your life.


Be open.

Not everyone will understand a mental illness right away if they haven’t suffered themselves or had someone else close to them suffer. After all, it’s not tangible, you can’t see mental illness in the same way you can see a broken leg. It’s normal that there may be questions and there may also be concerns: “Are you okay now?” or “What does anorexia even mean?” are a few things I have heard. Be ready to talk and answer questions you’re comfortable with. Transparency is always best.


Give it time.

Mental illness is a lot to wrap your head around. It was for me when I was first diagnosed, so it would make sense if it takes some time for a new person in your life to fully grasp it. If they are being compassionate but need some time to fully understand and are trying to do so, that’s the most important thing.

Anyone who suffers from a mental illness is brave. That’s a fact, because getting through the day while dealing with an illness is, in itself, brave. So to open up and tell someone your story can be a really nerve-wracking thing. Just remember that it’s your story, do only what you are comfortable doing, when you’re comfortable doing so and take solace in your bravery.