Mental health can be hard to talk about, and sometimes it’s hardest to talk about with the people we’re closest to, like family members. In the United States, almost half of all adults will experience a mental illness during their lifetime. That means you or someone in your family member may face a mental health challenge. And because of stigma, they might feel ashamed to discuss mental health problems with you and you might not know how to respond.
Even though it can be difficult and uncomfortable, it’s important to talk to your family about mental health. You are the person closest to them and may even see them every day. By breaking down barriers and having uncomfortable conversations when you perceive problems, you can be their resource to mental health support and treatment.
When talking about mental health, try to talk to your family member at a time when you won’t be rushed in a quiet, comfortable space. If you’re not sure how to start the conversation or what to say, the best thing you can do is be honest and ask if they’re okay. Let them know that you care about them and their safety, and that you are concerned.
Your family member might not want to talk right away, and that’s okay. Don’t pressure them to discuss their mental health. Instead, remind them that you’ll be there to support them whenever they are ready.
If they do want to talk about it, continue the conversation and do your best to listen to their concerns and needs in a nonjudgmental way. Provide emotional support and offer information on self-help strategies and professional help. But most importantly, be there for your loved one. This is a difficult conversation to have, and it might be the first time they are acknowledging their mental health challenges. Show them love, compassion and patience.
This video from Mental Health First Aid provides additional insight on how to navigate awkward conversations about mental health. If you’re still not sure what to do, take Mental Health First Aid. The course will teach you a concrete action plan for starting or continuing a conversation about mental health or substance use, and steps to help your loved ones find appropriate support.
Having an initial conversation about mental health is hard. But with every uncomfortable conversation, we can address stigma, break down barriers and help those closest to us when they need it most.