A fine line to walk with mental health: should you keep your friends’ secrets if the consequences could be deadly?


Eli Shimanski

This infographic shows, from my experience, the different ways that you could help a friend struggling with a severe mental health issues. Although these tips have helped me in difficult situations, they might not help everyone. Always keep in mind that you should probably tell an adult you trust if a friend is really struggling.

Cece Kaufmann, Staff Writer

Any relationship comes with hard conversations; everyone knows that. But sometimes those conversations are about someone’s mental health, which can be especially hard and sometimes even scary. What do you do when someone approaches you in confidence about their severe mental health struggles? Do you keep the secret or do you tell an adult if it means the person might get the help they need? And at what cost?

I was in sixth grade the first time my friends approached me about their mental health struggles and I had no idea what to do. I felt this weight on my chest that wouldn’t go away no matter what I did. Being so young, and having my own challenges related to coming of age as well as other personal issues, the responsibility of being a struggling friend’s primary support impacted my life. This was my first experience of being exposed to more severe mental health issues and it made me more aware of my own mental health. Yet because my close friends with mental health issues at the time had told adults and were getting the help they needed, I was able to support them knowing that I was not the only one responsible for doing so.

Fast forward to last year, my freshman year of high school. I met someone who became a really close friend struggling with serious mental health issues. They told me so much about what was going in their life, and I was the only person who knew about their struggles in that much detail.  Although I was thankful that they were telling me their personal information and trusting that I wouldn’t spread it all around, being their confidante for their mental health struggles started to take a toll on my own emotional health.

At the time I met this person halfway through freshman year, I was struggling to find my place in high school. I went from a K-8 school of 900 students, where I knew basically everyone in the middle school, to a school with more than 2,000 kids. I was also struggling with other outside issues that made my day-to-day life really hard.

The added stress of feeling like a person’s well-being was on my shoulders made me constantly anxious. Going to bed at night scared me: what if I woke up and found out the person had harmed themselves? I felt like I always had to be on my phone to check in on them. I felt like I needed to be around it as much as possible in case the person reached out.


It took me a long time to realize that I cannot save or control other people. I can only control myself and what I do. I can only personally help someone if they accept the help and want to feel better. You can’t control whether someone will accept help or whether they will ever truly recover.  

If necessary, however, you CAN tell an adult in order to help someone get professional help. If this makes them mad, explain that you told someone because you care about them, and you want them to be safe and happy. It might take them time to understand but in the end hopefully one day they will realize that you only told because you care about what was best for them. If you or someone you know is harming themselves in anyway and doesn’t want to seek help themselves, it’s important to tell an adult you trust.

We as teenagers can’t do this alone. Even with our best intentions and efforts, we ARE NOT a replacement for therapy, medication, or other mental health services. Professional help is crucial in a person’s process of getting better and even the best of us don’t have a degree in psychology or are a therapist. We just aren’t equipped to handles situations surrounding severe mental health. Helping a friend to get professional help is usually the most supportive thing we can do.

Though it could seem like I’m saying, “I wish these people hadn’t told me anything,” I AM NOT. I am glad that the people reached out to me and trusted me enough to let them in on some of their darkest secrets. I’m glad they wanted someone to know and I’m glad I was able to support them the best I could. However, I think it was important for me to learn that I didn’t have to bear the responsibility of supporting them by myself.

Many people experience the mental health of their friends taking a hit on their own. Sophomore Eamonn Breim explained, “[If] anyone who are you close with… has mental health problems [it] will affect your mental health even if you don’t suffer from depression … [if] anyone you are close with is feeling bad [it] will put a strain on your feelings, depending upon the extent of it.” When you care so much about your friends, it’s easy to overly invest in making them happy. Yet your own mental health is also important and it’s crucial that you take care of yourself too.

All of these experiences have taught me a lot about myself and my values. I learned how to tell when a friend seems to be struggling with mental health issues, how to help my friends talk through their issues and how to help them work towards a solution or get professional help.

I know this might sound cheesy, but from now on I am always going to tell an adult I trust if a friend of mine is struggling with mental health and they haven’t told an adult about it. It might make the person mad or feel betrayed, but their health and their long term feeling of worth is much more important that a temporary feeling of betrayal, especially when it comes to mental illness.