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How to talk to your loved ones about mental health concerns

Some people find it easy to open up about their struggles or know precisely what to say when someone confides in them. For others, it’s a minefield they think is about to explode.

With almost one in five people experiencing symptoms of a mental disorder each year, it’s never been more important to know how to talk to our friends and family in times of concern or distress.

We’re here to show you, that while it may seem impossible, it’s really not.

 If you’re struggling…  

1. Remember that you don’t have to explain every feeling

A 2015 British survey by Time to Change, a campaign to end mental health discrimination, found that nearly 60% of people with a mental health issue wait over a year to tell their friends and family.

We know that thought of telling someone that you’re struggling can be overwhelming. You may worry that they will judge you or that they won’t understand exactly what you’re going through. This is normal.

Try and remember that you don’t have to explain every single negative feeling you’ve experienced. The key point is conveying to your friends and family that you’re struggling, so you can get the help that you need and deserve now.

2. Collect reading material or information

If you find it difficult to express how you’ve been feeling or are worried about getting flustered, consider writing down your main points or collecting information to give your loved ones.

Printing out some fact sheets from websites like beyondblue or SANE can help you articulate yourself through difficult conversations.

3. Have conversations somewhere you feel safe

Beyondblue also recommends that you have tough conversations in a space where you feel safe and comfortable, as well as somewhere you won’t be interrupted. This guarantees that you’ll have their full attention.

If someone has opened up to you about their struggles…

1. Keep conversations relaxed and open

If someone has confided in you that they’re going through a difficult time, it’s important to approach conversations in a welcoming and supportive manner.

Your loved one has chosen you for a very simple reason – they trust you and believe you will react in a positive and helpful way.

Try and participate with a relaxed and open mind. You don’t have to understand everything your loved one is telling you, sometimes all they need is a supportive ear to listen.

2. Be sensitive and don’t judge

On the topic of providing support, approach conversations with a sensitive and judgement free view.

Every feeling is valid. No matter how extreme or irrational they may seem to you, these feelings are significant to your loved one.

The beyondblue guide for carers states that you should talk sensitively in a non-accusing and non-blaming manner, even if you’re feeling frustrated with the person who has confided in you.

3. Talk about other topics as well as mental health

Mindhealthconnect describe the importance of talking about other topics too. It can be easy to focus solely on your loved one’s mental health, but their struggles should not become the centre of your relationship.

There is more to them than their illness. Discuss topics you used to chat about like films, books, sports. These should not become off limits simply because your friend or family member is having a difficult time.

Often, a distraction is more than welcome!