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5 Tips for Starting a Conversation About Mental Health

Unlike physical health challenges — like scrapes and cuts or the flu — mental health and substance use challenges often remain unseen. And because we can’t always see mental health challenges, it’s important that we feel comfortable having conversations about them.

Talking about mental health can be difficult and awkward, but it doesn’t have to be. Nor do you need to be an expert to engage in conversations about mental health. Just a few small words — like asking someone how they’re feeling — can make a huge difference. Whether someone is ready to have that conversation with you or not, most people will appreciate your care and support in trying to start the conversation in the first place.

If you’re not exactly sure where to begin, here are a few helpful conversation starters to break the ice around a loved ones’ mental health:

  1. “Are you okay?” Ask the question and mean it. Show you are listening by sitting alongside the person, maintaining an open body position and maintaining comfortable eye contact.
  2. “Are you thinking about suicide?” If you are concerned that someone is considering suicide, ask the question directly. Asking a person if they have been thinking about suicide or have made plans will not increase the risk that they will complete suicide.
  3. “I’ve noticed that…” Open the conversation by explaining behavior changes you have noticed. For example, “I’ve noticed that you’ve been showing up to work late a lot lately.” Then, express genuine concern.
  4. “Do you want to take a walk?” Engaging a friend, family member or loved one you are concerned about in a healthy activity like taking a walk together can be a great way to start a conversation. Doing an activity while you talk can take some of the nerves and discomfort out of the conversation.
  5. “How are you, really?” Sometimes when someone says they’re fine, they’re not. Know the warning signs to look for so you can know when to offer extra support.

No matter the path this conversation takes, be prepared to walk it with whomever you’re reaching out to. We want everyone to feel confident enough to begin a conversation about mental health, sustain that conversation and direct people to the help they may need — whether that’s professional help or just a non-judgmental listening ear.

When we know what to say and what to do, we can #BeTheDifference for someone who may be experiencing a mental health or substance use challenge. Take a Mental Health First Aid course today to #BeTheDifference in the lives of your loved ones and support those who may need it most.

Check out these related blogs for more information on having supportive conversations surrounding mental wellbeing.


(Last updated September 2022)

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