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How to Start a Conversation About Someone's Mental Health

There are many different ways to support and help people struggling with their mental health. However, it’s important to remember everyone is different and will need support in different ways. Not everything on the list will apply to everyone, but it’s rather just a starter to a conversation. It’s up to you and the other important people around you to keep the conversation going.

Here are a few tips that can help you to spark a conversation about mental health support within your household:

1. Ask them.

This is the number one thing you could possibly do to help start an open conversation about mental health and support they will need. Try questions like:

“How are you doing? Is there anything on your mind you would like to talk about? If you would like to talk about anything, I am here to listen.”

2. Be mindful of your facial expressions.

When someone is having a very personal conversation about their mental health, it’s extremely important to be mindful of your facial expressions. You do not want to come off like you’re judging them. If you’re not sure what facial expressions to make, keep your expression neutral and let your words do all the communicating.

3. Do not judge.

Never, ever judge someone’s coping mechanisms that they used while they were sick. Mental illness is not an easy labyrinth to get out of and sometimes people use unhealthy copy mechanisms to bring them a moment of peace. It’s important to identify their poor coping mechanisms and help them to find new ones.

4.  Take them seriously.

Take everything they may express to you seriously. Sometimes, some things they may say might not make sense to you, but they are very real to them. Even if you do not understand it, do not joke about it. When someone is opening up to you and telling you something as serious as what is going on inside their heads, the last thing they would want is to be made fun of.

5. Help them to find professional help.

Mental illness can affect many aspects of someone’s life. It’s very complicated and cannot always be helped by just talking to someone. If their mental illness is causing someone to change their habits and is affecting their life, talk to them about different types of help you can help them access.

6. Knowing when (and when not) to leave them alone.

Sometimes, people struggling need a little private time to themselves to calm down or just disconnect from the world for a second. However, it’s very important to know when not to leave someone alone. If you fear they may harm themselves in any way, they should not be left alone.

If you fear they are a risk to themselves or another, you should contact a doctor or take them to an emergency department.

7. It’s not a “one and done.”

One conversation about mental health is a good start, but it isn’t enough. Keep in mind they may want to talk to you again after they have opened up to you. Be open to this and plan times when you to can talk about it in the future.

8. Tell only the people you need to.

If you are worried about them and feel the need to express this worry to a professional or to another loved one, do so. But never tell someone who doesn’t need to know. Do not start gossip about someone’s mental state. It will be very counterproductive and the person will likely be far too ashamed and upset to ever open up to you again.

Remember: everyone is human and some things can become a little too much for one person to bare. If you are worried about someone, take some tips from the above to try and start an open conversation about mental health. And remember, if you want to keep the conversation going, you should continue to read and educate yourself about mental health-related topics.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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Getty Images photo via sergio_kumer