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3 Dos and Don'ts About Starting a Conversation About Mental Health

Approximately one in five adults in the U.S. experience mental illness in a given year. Oftentimes, these people remain silent due to social stigmas or the fear of being misunderstood, judged or doubted. They may not reach out for help or seek treatment because their fear is debilitating. This is where you can come in.

Given the spread of mental illness is so wide, you likely know someone who is struggling. We also know you are probably not a doctor — but you’re something better: a friend or loved one. For this reason, a conversation with someone like you can often make a more powerful impact, as it’s more personalized and intimate. If you’re not a doctor, you should skip trying to diagnose anyone and simply be there for someone in need.

Here at Face the Issue (a non-profit dedicated to break the stigma and resulting silence that surrounds a wide range of mental health issues), we pulled together some dos and don’ts of starting a meaningful conversation about mental health.

Starting a conversation is easier than you might think. A conversation can open the doors and provide a space for your friend or loved one to feel safe and comfortable openly expressing what he or she is struggling with. It’s important to note, too, that talking to someone you think might be struggling doesn’t have to be only about the heavy stuff. We believe any conversation at all is a good start – be it about smart watches, start-up ideas or summer vacation plans.

Here are some other good methods…

1. Do remember Your “I”s.

As in “I care about you” or “I’m worried about you.” Making sure to speak on your own behalf can lower the shields and make for a more productive, thoughtful dialogue.

2. Do understand specificity is key.

Try to share examples of times you felt concerned, as opposed to broad, sweeping generalizations.

3. Do point to a pro.

Encourage them to seek professional help and offer your support. For instance, accompanying someone to an appointment can make the experience much more manageable.

However with the dos, come the don’ts, which we’ve listed below.

1. Don’t compare notes.

While you may be able to relate some of your experiences to what your friend is feeling, it’s important to remember they’re not the same and could potentially cause more confusion than clarity.

2. Don’t push pressure points.

Oftentimes, there are certain sensitivities that can cause a mood issue to shift in a person struggling with a mood disorder. If you are aware of any of your friend’s triggers, make sure to avoid or remove them before the conversation.

3. Don’t give the ‘ol brush off.

Saying things like, “But it’s all in your head” or “Everyone has bad days” can minimize a lifelong struggle, giving the impression recovery should be simple and obvious, or obscure the fact that the issue is real. You need to show you understand where they are coming from so they can trust you.

What it all comes down to is a conversation can be a powerful thing — and can make a huge impact. For more information on how you can start a meaningful conversation, as well as resources and local professional contact information, visit or check out our YouTube channel.

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Photo via Face the Issue.