How to Start a Conversation About Mental Health

Jan 9th, 2020

One in five U.S. adults is managing mental health challenges. Chances are you have a friend or family member who could use some support. But how do you initiate a conversation about mental health? It’s not as difficult as you might think, and it doesn’t have to be intimidating.

Find a comfortable place to talk where you won’t have any distractions or interruptions. Start by letting them know you care. It takes courage and trust to open up, so let them set the pace of discussion. Don’t push for more than they are ready to share. Refrain from trying to diagnose or fix the problem and resist any urge to lecture.

Showing empathy for what they are feeling, even if you don’t understand it, can go a long way. To get started, here are some things to say and not to say when talking with someone about their mental health.

 

WHAT TO SAY

WHAT NOT TO SAY

WHY

“I’ve noticed you don’t seem like yourself lately. I care about you. How are you really doing?”

“I know exactly how you feel. I get sad sometimes too.”

 

Show you truly care about their well-being. Don’t assume you know how they feel. The conversation should be about them, not you.

“Can you help me understand what you are going through? I may not know what it’s like, but I can offer my support and compassion.”

“Just hang in there. Everything will be okay, and this will pass.”

You may have the best intentions, but it’s not helpful to offer hollow promises. They could feel worse because things haven’t gotten better on their own. Medical treatment may be needed to see real improvement.

“Is there something I can do to help? You are not alone, and I am here for you.”

“Just look on the bright side and think happy thoughts. Tomorrow is another day.”

Don’t tell them what you think they should do. It can appear judgmental and dismissive of the pain they are experiencing. Just let them know they can count on you.

“Can we do something together – take a walk, get a coffee, go to a movie?”

“Stop feeling sorry for yourself. There are so many others who are worse off than you.”

Be present in their lives and don’t give up on them. They may want to isolate themselves, but find ways to show you care.

“Have you thought about getting help?”

“Just snap out of it.”

You should never imply they have a choice in what they’re experiencing. It trivializes their feelings and can make them feel guilty or like a failure. Let them know it is perfectly acceptable and normal to ask for help.

“I'm concerned about your safety. Have you thought about harming yourself or others?”

“You should stop acting so crazy!”

If you fear they are in danger, ask them about it directly. You may need to take immediate action by calling 911 or the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.

 

At Oceans Healthcare, we are passionate about helping individuals, expanding access to care and speaking honestly about mental health. We treat patients experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, behavioral changes related to medication management or substance abuse and other behavioral issues. Please contact us if we can help you or your loved one with their mental health challenges.

 

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