Bringing up the topic of mental health to someone can seem intimidating. You may feel uncomfortable, unsure of what to say or be afraid of offending them. And yet, these discussions are key to reducing stigma and breaking down barriers that keep individuals from seeking support and treatment. Take the first step towards becoming more comfortable discussing mental health by watching the short flash course, “Start the Conversation.” Afterwards, explore some of the tips below for helpful word choices and conversation starters.
- Ask, “Are you okay?” Sometimes, asking someone how they feel can open the door to providing support. Rather than immediately asking about a difficult subject matter that may make someone uncomfortable, this simple check-in can help all parties ease into the conversation.
- Avoid stigmatized word choices. Choosing words wisely can help with expressing thoughts and ideas respectfully. Certain words and phrases such as “addict,” “crazy,” or “suffering from” have negative connotations that reinforce mental health stigma. Instead, opt for neutral word choices such as “experiencing” or “has a history of.”
- Say, “I’ve noticed that…” Open the conversation by explaining behavior changes you’ve noticed. Then, express genuine concern and really listen to the other party’s response. Use the technique of repeating back what you’ve heard to ensure your understanding is clear.
- Use “person-first” language. People are not defined by their mental illness. Instead of saying “someone is mentally ill,” which equates person and illness, use person-first language such as “someone has mental illness.” If you’re not sure what word choices might be best, ask the other person. Follow their lead and ask for their guidance if you have concerns.
- Show empathy and offer support. This might seem intuitive, but showing respect, compassion and empathy for someone’s feelings can help them feel understood and be more willing to share. Try responding with phrases such as, “that sounds hard to manage” or “I’m sorry things are difficult right now.” Watch for reactions during the discussion and slow down or back up if the person seems upset or confused.
The 1 in 5 campaign focuses on normalizing the need for mental health resources and removing stigma for those who want to access care. Increasing comfort and confidence with talking about mental health concerns is key to reducing stigma. Visit the 1 in 5 website at www.1in5.info to explore a variety of helpful resources including flash courses, educational tip sheets, a mental health self-assessment, external links to podcasts and more.
Need further support? For confidential guidance and resources to help with life’s stressors, contact SupportLinc EAP by calling 1-888-881-5462.