Talking About Mental Health

Talking About Mental Health

The first week in October is Mental Illness Awareness Week, and October 10th is World Mental Health Day. The purpose of both of these observances is to increase public awareness of mental illness and health, reduce stigma, encourage advocacy, and support those in recovery. To contribute to these goals, we thought it would be helpful to share some tips on conversation starters around mental illness and on how to give and receive support.

As you may have guessed, there are two sides to this story: how to bring up your own struggles, and how to reach out to others.

Sharing Your Struggles

Though it can be hard, opening up to just one person is an important first step. Decide who you are comfortable sharing with. This could be a family member, friend, teacher, or other trusted person in your life. You can start by asking them to set aside some time to talk. That way you won’t feel rushed or pressured, and can find some privacy to chat.  Saying something as simple as “I have some things on my mind that I’d like to talk to you about. Do you have some time to chat?” could work.

Once you are meeting with the person, try to have an idea of what you are looking for in the conversation. Perhaps you just want them to listen. Maybe you are looking for more specific help. Having that in mind can help guide the conversation and make it more productive. Share what you are struggling with. Explain how it makes you feel. Tell them how you’d like them to help and why.

It’s ideal to have these conversations in person, since sometimes your meaning or emotions can be lost in text or email (or even over the phone). However, if that’s not feasible, other methods are a good step in the direction of getting support.

If you’re comfortable doing so, sharing your story of mental illness and recovery can help reduce the stigma around these common health conditions and encourage others to reach out for the help they may need. You can do this by talking to friends, posting on websites like This is My Brave, or getting active in your local NAMI or MHA chapter.  

Supporting Others

What if you are concerned about a friend? How can you bring that up with them without offending them?

A recent campaign called “Seize The Awkward” has lots of tips and information about how to have these conversations. But the key is that it doesn’t have to be complicated. Asking something as simple as “Hey, are you OK?” can get the ball rolling. You could also comment that you have recently noticed a change: “I’ve noticed that you’ve seemed down lately. What’s going on?”. Even something as simple as “I’m here to listen if you need me” can be helpful and supportive. Remember that simply acknowledging that your friend or family member is not OK and that you’re there for them is the step that will have the biggest impact.

We’ve put together a list of tips that can be helpful during the conversation here.