It can be tough to have open conversations about mental health. Many of us feel awkward broaching the subject. You might not want to offend the other person or make them uncomfortable. You might suspect that a loved one or colleague is struggling with their mental health, but not know how to ask them about it.

All too often, we wait for others to tell us that they’re struggling. But opening the dialogue yourself can be a great way to let loved ones know that they’re welcome to talk about their mental health with you, and that you’re ready to support and listen.

This National Start The Conversation Day, let’s talk about how to approach the important subject of mental health with the people around us. From our experience in mental health training and mental health services, here are some of our top tips from the MINES team’s mental health experts.

Tip 1: Talk about mental health often

Having a conversation about mental health doesn’t have to be awkward. Think about it: we talk about physical health all the time. It doesn’t take a great effort to talk about physical health; it comes up naturally in conversation. For example, you might let someone know that your head hurts or that you haven’t been sleeping very well lately. You might let your manager know that you’ll be late because you have a medical appointment.

It can be just as simple to talk about mental health. And when you talk about mental health openly on a day-to-day basis, the people around you will get the memo that you’re open to having these conversations.

You might say something like, “I had a fantastic therapy session last week,” or “I had depression for a long time, but it’s managed now.” You don’t have to announce the topic of mental health. Mental health is a big part of all of our lives; simply allow the topic to come up naturally. This signifies that you’re a safe person to talk to about mental health issues. The experts at MINES & Associates offers mental health training and mental health services that provide a healthy environment to have such conversations. 

Tip 2: Notice the signs

Secondly, it might help to be able to notice when a loved one or a colleague isn’t doing well in terms of their mental health. When you’re receptive to these signs, it becomes easier to tell when someone in your life may need your support.

Some signs that someone’s mental health could be struggling include:

    • They no longer spend time with friends

    • They seem uninterested in activities or interests they used to enjoy

    • They seem lethargic or always tired

    • They’re neglecting their self-care or personal hygiene

    • They lose their temper more often

    • Their eating habits have changed and/or they’ve inexplicably gained/lost a significant amount of weight

    • They’re drinking or using drugs more than usual

    • They’re more impulsive

    • They seem to overreact to small things more easily

    • They post cryptic or worrisome things on social media like songs or quotes about suicide

    • They make comments like “I hate myself,” or “Life sucks.”

It isn’t always clear-cut when someone is struggling, and every person is unique. You know your friend or colleague best; if you’re concerned, it’s a good idea to start the conversation.

Tip 3: Schedule time

If you notice signs that someone in your life isn’t doing well, set aside some 1-on-1 time to talk to them about it in private. This is often better received than approaching the subject out of the blue. This can also prevent them from feeling ambushed in a public setting.

Invite your loved one to do something together that you enjoy. You might invite them out for a walk or to have a cup of coffee together. Let them know that you want to check in with each other about life on a deeper level. At MINES & Associates, we will cater to an ideal time to schedule mental health training or mental health services that meet your needs.

Tip 4: Show you care and ask genuine questions

When the scheduled time comes, approach the subject naturally. Let the person know that you care about them and make a neutral, non-judgmental observation. Make sure you ask them how they’re feeling in a deeper way, and be specific about what you’ve observed. Simply asking, “How are you feeling lately?” may not do enough to help them feel comfortable opening up.

For example, you might say:

“I care about you a lot. I’ve noticed that you seem a little down lately. You’re quieter than usual, and you don’t come out with us as often. You seem sad. I just wanted to check in with you. How are you feeling these days?”

If you know that they’re going through something in their life, you can ask about this as well. For example: “I know the divorce has been really hard on you, as it would be on anyone. How have you been feeling about that?”

If you desire professional help, the team at MINES & Associates is here to help! We offer mental health training and mental health services to our clients.

Tip 5: Listen more than you talk

Once you’ve asked your loved ones these important questions and started the conversation, allow them to share openly with you. Don’t interrupt them or talk over them; avoid turning the conversation to your own experiences. Simply listen.

Show with both verbal and nonverbal communication that you’re listening. Maintain appropriate eye contact and let them know that they have your undivided attention. This is why it’s so important to schedule a set time to talk about this – so that you can both focus on the conversation without distractions.

When you do talk, ask questions to invite the person to share further. You might ask things like, “How long have you been feeling like this?” and “How have you been coping?”

Another tip: be patient. Your loved one or colleague may not be ready to open up to you fully right away. If they don’t feel comfortable telling you everything during this first conversation, that’s okay. What matters is that they know you’re there for them.

If at this point you feel professional support is in order, MINES & Associates can help! We offer mental health training and mental health services for our clients.

Tip 6: Offer support, but stay away from unsolicited advice

Especially if you’ve been in the same boat with your own mental health, it can be tempting to share advice about things that worked for you. You might want to tell them about a specific medication or therapy method that helped. There might be a time for this, but during the first conversation, stay away from unsolicited advice.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t provide support. Let your loved one know that they aren’t alone and that you’ll stand by them through the long haul.

Here’s an example of something you might say to give support (not advice):

“It sounds like you’re going through such a rough time. I want you to know that I’m here for you no matter how hard things get. I know how painful depression can be, and you’re not alone.”

On top of this, you can ask your loved one how they’d like for you to support them: “What, if anything, can I do to help you get through this?”

Tip 7: Continue to check in

Starting the conversation is important, but it’s just as important to continue the conversation. After you’ve talked to your friend to check in with them initially, keep checking in with them. Send them messages asking them how they are. Continue to invite them out with you to talk. Make your presence known, and let them know that they can talk to you about how they’re feeling.

Having these conversations can be hard on you, too – so make sure you’re taking care of yourself through all of this. If it ever gets to be too much, you can try connecting your loved one with outside resources like their EAP program, the Crisis Text Line, or 988.

We at MINES & Associates salute you for starting the conversation and normalizing mental health. Please contact us today to learn more about our mental health training, mental health services, or any other service you may be interested in!

To your wellbeing,

The MINES Team