How to talk to a loved one about their mental health
Talking to a loved one about their mental health and offering support is one of the first steps towards their healing. To have an effective conversation, find the time and place where you can discuss in-depth without interruptions for at least 30 minutes. While talking with your loved one, let them guide the conversation and show your support without being judgmental. You can reach out to professionals if the situation warrants it, but do not push them.
Indeed, talking to your loved one about their mental health can make a whole world of difference. But you may feel like you don’t know the right thing to say, or even worse, you may be scared of saying something wrong. However, learning how to talk to someone with mental illness isn’t as difficult as you might think.
Perhaps, you’ve noticed a change in your loved one’s attitude, or they’ve always struggled with a mental disorder. Whether it’s just a challenging time like work stress or a diagnosable condition like severe depression, this article highlights tips on how to talk to your loved one about their mental health.
Mental health conversation starters
If you think someone you care about is struggling with mental health issues, below are some conversation starters to help both of you ease into the conversation:
- For the past days/weeks/months, it seems like you have been feeling sad/angry/stressed/moody, distracted/(insert whatever you have noticed)
- I’ve noticed your changes in appetite/weight/sleep/alcohol or drug use or loss of interest in things you used to enjoy.
- You seem to be struggling with your new job/finances/divorce/break-up/death of a loved one/(insert any traumatic event they have experienced recently).
- Talking to you about this makes me nervous, but I’m doing it all the same because I’m worried about you and how it is affecting our relationship.
- I would like us to figure out what’s best for you/create a plan to help you get better/talk to a therapist. What would you want me to do/how can I help?
How to ask someone about their mental health
Still struggling with the right question to ask your loved one about their mental health? If you’re concerned about someone’s state of mind, here are questions to help them open up:
Ask, “how have you been?” This is often more intimate than a commonplace “how are you.” Most people consider “how are you as a figure of speech and would say “fine, thanks” even when they’re anything but that. If you truly want to know how someone is doing, ask “how have you been” a little later in the discussion after the small talk.
“Have you been sleeping well lately?”
“How’s your stress level these days?”
“I noticed you’ve not been yourself lately. Would you like to talk to someone?”
These questions will work whether your loved one has a diagnosed mental illness or is going through a challenging time.
Tips on how to talk to a loved one about their mental illness
1. Be an active listener
Let the person share as much as they would like to at their own pace without interrupting or passing judgement. Avoid pushing them to disclose anything you feel they’re unwilling to talk about, as you want to make them as comfortable as possible talking to you. It takes a lot of trust for them to decide to talk to you. From time to time, summarize what your loved one has said to ensure you understand clearly.
2. Ask open-ended questions
Ask open-ended questions to get more details or clarify what they’ve mentioned. For instance, ask questions like, “how did that make you feel?” when they allude to an incident that transpired. However, try not to grill them with too many questions as it isn’t an interrogation. The goal is to be as empathetic as possible in your tone, expression, and choice of words.
3. Avoid making yourself the subject
If your loved one is going through a challenge you have once experienced, you’d be tempted to tell them about how you got through yours. It’s OK to share similar experiences, but avoid making them feel like their concerns are nothing just because you could get through yours. For example, if you’re talking about a loss, avoid mentioning how your loss was even harder to deal with.
4. Ask what you can do
It’s common to assume you know the best solution to your loved one’s mental health challenges, but it’s better to ask them what they want. If they say nothing, then you can come up with some suggestions. Just don’t be too pushy.
5. Be realistic
It’s common for people with depression and other mental illnesses to contemplate suicide. Your loved one may be going through the same phase. Contrary to popular belief, talking about death and suicide doesn’t make it more likely to happen. So, rather than shy away from your concerns, tell your loved one exactly how you feel about their mental state.
If the situation is critical, don’t hesitate to get external help or call 911.
6. Don’t always try to be the fixer
When talking with your loved one about their mental health, ensure you ask them if all they need is a listening ear or solutions. Especially when you’re a man, you’ll instantly switch to the “fixer” role when your loved one tells you about their issues. But they may not want to hear any of it, and you’ll only succeed in putting them off.
7. Don’t judge
To support someone with mental illness, you have to put personal opinions and biases aside. Their feelings are valid to them, regardless of how overreacting you think they may be. You have to put yourself in their shoes to know. Never try to look at things from your perspective alone. The worst thing you can do when talking to someone about their mental health is to invalidate their feelings.
8. Know when to seek professional help
As much help as you try to offer, it just might not be enough. If your loved one shows severe signs of depression or any other mental disorder, they would likely need professional help. So don’t be afraid to call a mental health professional as you might be saving a life.
What not to say to someone with depression
Here are things you must not say when talking with a depressed or mentally ill person:
- Cheer up
- Be positive
- It could have been worse
- It can’t be that bad
- You think you have it bad
- What’s there to be depressed about?
- Just give it time; I’m sure it will pass
- You’ll get over it
- You’re being so dramatic
- You don’t seem sad
- Come on, snap out of it
- It’s all in your head
- You’re simply overthinking
- Other people have problems, too
- Just let
- I’ve dealt with worse
Emotional support from a loved one is essential when dealing with mental illness. Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with what to say and what not to say when talking with someone about their mental health, it’s time to make a move. Their recovery may depend on how quickly you get them to open up.