How to Talk to Others About Mental Health

October 24, 2019
Mental health disorders are one of the leading causes of poor health and disability worldwide. Globally, one in four people will be affected by a mental health disorder, and 450 million are living with some form today. The problems are common. But talking about mental health issues remains difficult for most of us, due to the stigma that has long surrounded mental illness.

It may not be easy to explain your mental health status. But it can help you feel less lonely and isolated—and widen your support network. Plus, talking about your mental health can reduce your stress level, improve your mood, and build trust in your relationships.

To get yourself in a good frame of mind to talk about mental health, try thinking through the following points first.

Place and Time Matter

If you’re feeling nervous, anxious, or downright scared to talk to your loved ones, choosing the time and place is important. To ensure you can be comfortable and candid, pick a place that makes you feel at ease or peaceful, and one that’s easily accessible for you both. Reduce the chance of noise and interruptions so you can talk without distraction.

It’s important to have enough time for a real, honest discussion. And your loved may want time to ask questions. Choose a day and time that allows for a fluid conversation without having to cut things short.

Know Your Audience

Who you talk to can make all the difference. Before jumping into a discussion of mental health, think about the person you’ll be talking to. Do they know much about mental health disorders? Have they themselves experienced anything similar? Are the openminded about the subject, or do they seem more reserved? Knowing details about your audience’s views on mental health will allow you to craft a conversation that will be mutually beneficial and help you prepare for their response.

Speak in First Person

Considering the stigmas and misinformation surrounding mental health, being direct and speaking from personal experience is the best way communicate what you’re going through. When those who know you hear you opening up with “I” statements, it helps them understanding the importance of your discussion and relate to you.

Be Specific

When explaining your symptoms, feelings, and experiences, try to be direct and specific in your discussion. Instead of using vague language like, “I’m tired a lot,” or “I get nervous around people,” use examples of when these emotions have occurred, how they made you feel, and what specifically induced them. For example, if you’re getting the right amount of sleep, but still feel exhausted, say it that way. It makes it less tempting for your loved one to fall back on assumptions or easy answers.

These specific examples will help others visualize and understand what you’re feeling and give them greater insight into the symptoms of mental health disorders.

Tell Them How to Help

Before you talk, make sure you know what you’re asking for. What do you want your loved one to know or do? Do you need help getting an appointment with a doctor? (We can help with that.) Do you need more emotional support or time spent together? Apart? Understand what you need so you know how to ask for it.

This directness will help you build a strong support network and help your loved ones feel less helpless.

Living with a mental health disorder is not easy, nor is it always comfortable. But by opening up to those you love and trust, you start to create the kind of support system you need, and make it easier for others to help.

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