The Ellie Blog

Mental health tips and insights

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How to Start a Conversation about Mental Health

Taking care of your mental health is important and shouldn’t be ignored. We don’t always realize we’re struggling and having a loved one check in with us about their observations and concerns can be an important step toward getting the help we need. If you are concerned about the mental health of a loved one, it is important to approach the situation with compassion and care. Having a conversation about mental health can be difficult, but it is crucial to address it and provide support.

Concerns and Warning Signs

Have you had recent concerns about a loved one’s mental health? Maybe you’ve noticed that they haven’t been acting like themselves, or they have been more isolated recently. It can be helpful to educate yourself about some of the warning signs that they are struggling with their mental health:

  • Missing work or social events
  • Sleeping or eating too much or too little
  • Increased anger or irritability
  • Not leaving home as much as usual
  • Increased drug or alcohol use
  • Decrease in self-care or neglecting personal hygiene
  • Mental health can even affect physical health and cause pain or illness

Every person is different, but if you are noticing some of these signs, you might feel compelled to say something or reach out. It can be difficult to know how to even start the conversation about mental health. In many families and communities, there is still a stigma associated with mental illness or reaching out for help. Consequently, it can be difficult to know what to say, but you don’t have to be an expert, or therapist, or a trained professional to have a conversation with someone about their mental health. The best thing you can do is reassure them that you are there for them and that you care about them. If you want to do more, but aren’t sure where to start, here are a few suggestions.

If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, don’t hesitate to reach out! Schedule an appointment at one of our clinics nationwide today.

Five tips for how to talk to someone about their mental health:

  • Express your concerns in a loving, supportive and non-confrontational manner. Your loved one may be experiencing feelings of shame, guilt, or embarrassment, so it is essential to be gentle and supportive.
  • Focus on the specific signs & symptoms that cause you to be concerned (i.e. “I’ve noticed that you aren’t leaving the house as much as usual” or “You mentioned you’re not sleeping much, is everything ok?”)
  • Remember to use “I” or “I feel” statements instead of using accusatory “you” statements and avoid giving simple solutions (i.e. I feel worried when I don’t hear from you for long periods of time”, “I’ve been worried about you recently,” NOT: “If you’d just calm down then everything would be better”)
  • Normalize it (i.e. “It’s normal to feel this way when that happens” or “A lot of people feel hopeless this time of year”)
  • Avoid Judgment and Criticism: Avoid using language that could be interpreted as critical or dismissive, since that could cause more harm (i.e. “You’re being too sensitive,” “You need to toughen up,” or “Just snap out of it.”).

Avoiding Judgment and Offering Support

When having an open discussion about mental health, it is important to avoid judgment and criticism. Instead, focus on offering support and understanding. Avoid using language that could be interpreted as critical or invalidating, as this can be detrimental to the conversation and your loved one’s mental health.

Offering support can look different depending on the person and your relationship. For some people, just talking about their mental health struggles can be helpful. For others, they might need a little more help around the house, with their kids, or finding a therapist or medication provider (for someone that is struggling with their mental health, it’s often overwhelming or difficult to know where to start when seeking out mental health care!). Offering a variety of different support options is a good way to start.

Talking About Suicide

One of our therapists and suicidologists at Ellie, Dr. Brittany Miskowiec says, “one of the most common myths about suicide is that talking about it will put the idea in someone’s head.” If you are concerned that a loved one might be contemplating suicide, read our blog post about how to talk to others about suicide.

Of course, if you’re talking to someone with thoughts of suicide, you, or the person with thoughts of suicide can call or text 988, the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

Graphic explaining how to start a conversation about your mental health

Finding Support for Yourself

It’s not easy to see a loved one struggle, and sometimes we get so caught up in helping them that we forget to care for ourselves. Remind yourself that you can care about another person, be a support for them, and offer help when you can, but ultimately, you can’t make someone get help. It’s also important to make sure you aren’t sacrificing your own mental health in an effort to help someone else with theirs.  It’s always a good idea to check in with a therapist if you find yourself needing some extra support or joining a support group through NAMI.

Having a conversation with a loved one about mental health can be challenging, but it is necessary to provide support and guidance. By following these tips and having the bravery to reach out, you are decreasing the stigma around mental health and showing your loved one that you care. Remember that mental health is a journey, and it is important to be patient, supportive, and understanding.

About the author

Miranda Barker headshot

Miranda Barker, MSW, LICSW

Director of Content and Production

Miranda specializes in working with people who have been touched by adoption or foster care (birth parents, adoptees, kids in foster care, etc). She enjoys working with people of all ages. Prior to joining Ellie, Miranda spent several years in the non-profit adoption field and then as a child protection investigator and case… Read more