Sometimes the hardest conversations are the most important. As behavioral health professionals, we understand the importance of mental health awareness — however, despite growing awareness, many people still find it challenging to discuss mental health openly. In fact, a new poll conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), found that while a majority (74%) of employees say it is appropriate to discuss mental health concerns at work, significantly fewer (58%) say they would personally feel comfortable doing so.

With this in mind, we recognize that it’s more important than ever to find ways to bring up the conversation about mental health — our own journeys, our clients’ mental health, or the mental health of our loved ones. Facing stigma, fear of judgment, or simply not knowing how to broach the topic can make starting a conversation about mental health daunting. For many people, talking about anything related to their health or body can be awkward and difficult. Yet, these conversations are crucial for fostering understanding, empathy, and support.

  1. Make sure it’s an appropriate time:
    Carefully deciding on an appropriate time and setting is essential when approaching a conversation around sensitive topics like mental health. Aim for a quiet, private space where both you and the other person feel comfortable and safe. Avoid bringing up the topic in public or during stressful situations, as this can escalate tensions and inhibit open communication.
  2. Keep empathy in mind:
    Approach the conversation with empathy and genuine concern. Let the person know that you care about their well-being and that you’re there to support them. Use empathetic language to convey your understanding of their struggles and validate their experiences. Empathic listening promotes emotional well-being by acknowledging and validating the emotional experiences of others.
  3. Remember that open-ended questions can encourage dialogue:
    Open-ended questions invite the other person to share their thoughts and feelings more freely. Instead of asking yes or no questions, try asking questions like, “How have you been feeling lately?” or “What has been on your mind?” These open-ended questions encourage deeper reflection and allow the person to express themselves fully.
  4. Practice active listening:
    Active listening involves giving the speaker your full attention and showing that you’re genuinely interested in what they have to say. Avoid interrupting or interjecting with your own opinions. Instead, focus on understanding the other person’s perspective and validating their emotions.
  5. Offer validation, not judgment:
    It’s important to create a non-judgmental space where the person feels safe to share their thoughts and feelings without fear of criticism. Validate their experiences by acknowledging their emotions and reassuring them that their feelings are valid and understandable. The act of being heard and understood is inherently therapeutic.
  6. When appropriate, share your own experiences:
    In certain situations, sharing your own experiences with mental health can help normalize the conversation and show that they’re not alone in their struggles. However, be mindful not to overshadow the other person’s experiences or make the conversation about yourself. Instead, use your own experiences to foster empathy and understanding.
  7. Prepare resources and support to offer:
    Let the person know that you’re there to support them in any way you can. Offer to accompany them to seek professional help or provide information about mental health resources such as hotlines, support groups, or therapy options. Encourage them to reach out for help if they’re struggling.
  8. Be patient and respect boundaries:
    Respect the other person’s boundaries and avoid pressuring them to open up if they’re not ready. When you are patient and understanding, the person you’re connecting with will understand that you’re available whenever they feel ready to talk. Reassure them that there’s no rush, and that you’re there to support them whenever they need it.
For anyone unsure about how to initiate a conversation about mental health, here are 8 tips to start the conversation:

8 tips for starting a conversation about mental health