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Communicating About Mental Illness

Have you ever learned that someone close to you has a mental health disorder and not known what to say? It can seem difficult to talk about mental health disorders, especially if you don’t really understand what they’re experiencing. However, you can help your family and friends who are struggling with their mental health by talking to them about their challenges, particularly if you’ve had mental health challenges yourself. Here are a few things that you should keep in mind when talking to others about their mental health.

Ask for Specifics

When you’re opening a conversation about mental health with a friend or family member, it is important to ask them for specifics about their mental health. If you just ask, “How are you doing?” they can respond without telling you anything about their true feelings. Instead, mention that you’ve noticed that they’re struggling with their mental health. Ask them specifically how they are feeling and what you can do to help. This can encourage them to open up about the symptoms and feelings that they’re experiencing, even if it might be difficult at first. It can also be helpful for you to describe some of your own challenges that you’ve had in the past. You don’t need to have experienced a mental health disorder to relate to stress or sadness. Being honest and genuine about your own challenges can help your friend or family member to see that you are a safe space to talk about their mental health and that you truly want to help them.


Use Terms

It is also important to use specific terms when you’re talking about mental health. If your friend or family member knows that they’re experiencing anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or suicidal ideation, don’t dance around those terms. Avoiding using those terms can actually make your conversation and the mental health journey of your friend more difficult. Realize that using specific terms doesn’t make your friend or family member experience those symptoms even more. For example, if your sister has been having suicidal thoughts, asking her about her suicidal thoughts in those terms specifically won’t make them worse. It won’t make her think more about suicide. In fact, it could help her to find relief from those symptoms and tell you how you can help her when she’s having a particularly bad day.

Serve Without Being Asked

Finally, it can be helpful to serve your family members or friends without being asked. When you’re experiencing anxiety, depression, or some other mental health disorder, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by daily responsibilities when you can’t even control what is going on in your mind. If you see your friend or family member struggling to clean the house, buy groceries, or even eat regular meals, step in and help them. They might not have the mental capacity to delegate specific tasks to you, so just help them where you see they have a need. Asking, “how can I help you?” might work for some people, but others will just say, “I’m fine” even though they’re feeling completely overwhelmed. Serving without asking is a great way to take some of the pressure off their mind.

So, if you’re trying to have a conversation with someone about their mental health, remember this article. Don’t be afraid to be candid, honest, and genuine. You never know when your words or deeds could make a huge difference in the life of another. When it comes to mental health, asking someone how they’re doing could literally save their life.

If you, a friend, or a family member are looking for help from mental health professionals, click here to learn about Peak Psychological Services. Talk to one of their professionals to start on the path to healing.