How to have a conversation about mental health

By: Shauna Smith

 When talking about mental health as both the sufferer and the loved one, it can be an intimidating topic to approach but nonetheless an important one that is necessary to the healing of all parties involved. For those struggling to understand, these are some helpful ways to approach the conversation.

  1. Break the stigma surrounding mental health

Those struggling with mental illness still feel a great deal of shame despite how normalized and accepted it is to cope with one. This shame makes it hard to open up and gives individuals a sense of failure in their own life and their personal relationships. Asking someone what they are experiencing will ultimately help to guide them in a more positive direction and allow them to feel more comfortable speaking about it with you.

  1. Understand the connection between mental illness and suicide vs. illness and criminality

 Within today’s interpretation of mental illness, the word itself is still criminalized. It is proven that there is a major difference between criminality and someone who commits a crime while battling an illness. While mental illness is quick to be blamed for someone’s act of violence in the media,  the majority of those who suffer have no intent to harm another person at all. However, there is a larger and more impactful correlation with those who aim to harm themselves. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, “90% of people who die by suicide have depression or other disorders, or substance-use disorders in conjunction with other mental disorders”. When having a conversation please consider that triggering circumstances are not the main cause of suicide, but battling a mental illness at the same time is extremely high risk.

  1. Understand it’s not about using the “right words” it is about talking at all.

Those battling mental illnesses are people nonetheless and want to be heard regardless of how hard it is to speak about. It is not about avoiding specific terms or walking on eggshells in the conversation. As long as there is compassion and a willingness to hear them, then loved ones can begin to express how they are feeling. The biggest challenge about talking about this subject, is coming forward to talk about it period.

  1. If your comfortable, share your experiences

Talking about your own struggle in relation to the subject with no comparisons to another’s struggle can reach others in the conversation as well as aid yourself. Self advocacy is highly impactful and talking about what got you through the experience or how you manage day to day struggles could change someone’s life for the better.

A conversation can save a life, change a life, and empower others to do the same. In a time where mental health tolls are at their highest, have love in your heart, and compassion in your words.