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The Awkward Conversation: How to Respond When Someone Tells You They’re Not Okay

“How are you?”

Those three words have become a prescriptive question with a prescriptive answer in today’s society.

When we’re asked how we are, we’re expected to automatically respond with, “Great,” “Good,” or at the very worst, “I’m fine.”

But in a world where 1 in 5 people will experience a mental health or addiction challenge in their lifetime, and 100 percent of people will have a bad day every now and then, why is it that so few of us are prepared to respond when someone tells us they’re not actually doing okay?

That’s exactly the question this recent video from Mental Health First Aid USA seeks to answer.

Dani, a woman who has lived with anxiety and depression for more than 12 years, opens up to some complete strangers about her experience with depression. When they ask her how she is—she answers honestly. She’s not doing well. In fact, she has been struggling with severe depression.

What follows is mostly a series of awkward pauses. People seem to want to help—they just don’t know how.

“You just expect the automatic response of, ‘How are you doing?,’ ‘I’m good,’” said one of the participants when asked why he was caught off guard at Dani’s honesty. “And I don’t think people do it because they’re inconsiderate, I think it’s because they honestly don’t know what to say.”

That’s where Mental Health First Aid is valuable. It teaches people a concrete action plan for starting or continuing a conversation about mental health or addiction, and for helping people find appropriate support, whether that’s treatment or just a non-judgmental listening ear.

“If you had cancer, you wouldn’t will yourself to get better with that. And so, I think that—I hope that people just start talking about [mental health] more,” said another participant.

Talking about mental health and substance use more is a great place to start tearing down the barriers that prevent so many from seeking and receiving help. And knowing how to have those conversations is the first step in that direction.

If you aren’t already trained in Mental Health First Aid, learn the action plan – take a course near you. Knowing how to respond when someone tells you they’re not okay can change — or even save — a life.

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