While we have come leaps and bounds in terms of reducing the stigma around mental health, it's still a difficult conversation to start. How do you tell your friend you are concerned about their mental health? What about a sibling? A partner? We often stop ourselves from having a meaningful conversation out of fear of how people will react. While there is no one size fits all way have a conversation about mental health but there are some right ways and wrong ways. The most important thing to remember is that it's always best to reach out and help early on.
1. Start The Conversation
This can be the most difficult part, you don't want to seem like you are diagnosing or criticizing them. Try starting the conversation by asking open ended questions rather than 'yes' or 'no' questions. You should also avoid being too general in the questions you ask. Both of these strategies will help you to prevent the other person from brushing off the conversation. Asking something like "I have noticed you've seemed stressed about [scenario], how have you been feeling about it". This type of open ended yet specific question will help you get a more honest answer. Remember, many people who struggle with their mental health have developed skills to hide their struggles as a coping mechanism. You may have to spend some time having open conversations to get to what is really going on.
2. Watch Your Vocabulary
Once you have opened the dialogue it can be difficult to avoid giving medical advice. But remember, this is a medical condition and you are probably not a doctor. It can be a struggle to encourage someone with a mental health issue to get professional help. Depending on the severity, many people have tried to get help before and had a negative experience. Overcoming these negative experiences requires a lot of strength so be patient with your friend or family member if they are not willing to get help. If you find they are reluctant, start small. Encourage them to speak to a hotline or some other free method of help that doesn't involve and intimidating doctor with a notepad. It can also be helpful to educate them on their options and help them understand the different types of mental health service providers. TranQool can be a good low-stress option since they don't have to leave their comfort zone.
3. Check In & Keep It Going
Just like when you're starting the conversation, simply asking "how are you" in a casual context is not enough. Make time to speak openly and ask specific questions. If they don't feel like speaking at the time let them know you are available when they are ready. The ongoing theme here is giving support. People who are really struggling have a hard time believing change is possible but having a person listen to them without counselling them can help. Meet them where they are at and as you develop an open dialogue you will be better able to support them in getting help.
If your loved one is in crisis please either call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. To help with an ongoing problem find them a therapist either on Psychology Today or if they have issues finding availabilities or are more comfortable having a session from home refer them to TranQool.