With growing social encouragement, some of us are experiencing more open conversations about mental health. However, there’s no denying that many people still find it uncomfortable to discuss mental health issues. Thankfully, you don’t need to be a mental health professional to start a conversation about mental health.
We find it easy to talk about our physical health with others. But not about poor mental health, which is just as important. People can experience mental health struggles at different stages in life. The more we can initiate conversations about our mental health, the easier it becomes to find helpful resources for our well-being.
When we think of mental health, there’s the tendency to instantly associate it with having a mental illness. However, they do not always mean the same thing. Just like your physical health, everyone has mental health. In this light, your mental health encompasses your entire mental well-being.
Our own mental health or mental health state affects many aspects of our lives. It determines how we respond to situations, handle stress and pressure, and relate to friends and family. In addition, it refers to the emotions we experience and how we feel, think, and act.
In summary, a person’s mental health is the state of one’s mind, including emotions and feelings.
Related: Our compilation of inspiring mental health quotes contains insights into how others have started conversations, sought recovery, and raised awareness of mental health concerns.
On the other hand, mental illness affects how a person behaves, thinks, and interacts with people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are over 200 types of mental illness.
When someone has a mental illness, it affects the person’s ability to function daily. Mental illnesses also have different symptoms, prompting the need to discuss mental health. Although many people have unique personal experiences with mental health struggles, engaging in conversations is always helpful.
Apart from talking to professionals like doctors, simply stating how you feel to friends and family can make someone comfortable. Also, many people feel comfortable talking with family members or friends before seeking help from mental health services. This often eases the process and can even equip them with strategies to respond and cope.
According to the World Health Organization, globally, 1 in every 8 people lives with a mental disorder. Out of the hundreds of disorders that exist, depression and anxiety top the list as the most common.
Studies from the same organization revealed that in 2020, at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, anxiety, and depression rose in the population. Among young people between the ages of 15 and 29, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death.
Apart from affecting people’s mental state and well-being, mental disorders also have a ripple effect. These disorders often affect people’s overall health. For instance, there’s a 40% higher risk of developing cardiovascular and metabolic diseases among people with depression.
Without support from a community and treatment, people struggling with mental disorders often go into a crisis. If you’re concerned about a loved one, the most important thing is first to take notice of any changes.
If they don’t immediately express how they’re feeling, you should take the first step of talking with them. This lets the person know that you’re available to have a conversation and ready to listen.
Related: Read up more in our rundown of 33 mental health statistics and facts highlighting the importance of mental health awareness and care. We also cover the benefits of a positive attitude, and some tips to help keep positive.
On the one hand, there’s an increase in understanding concerning mental health’s role in developmental goals. Sustainable development goal three (SDG 3) also includes a mental health focus. According to one of its targets, “By 2030, reduce by one-third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being”. This is part of the United Nations’ efforts to promote awareness, access to treatment, and crisis response.
Apart from the global scale, many people want to be present for their loved ones going through a tough time. Common experiences, like feeling overwhelmed, can translate to one problem or the other. Talking initiates the process of understanding a person’s current state and how you can be present.
In this light, a simple conversation can make a big difference; even in cases where a friend or family member is afraid of talking, offering your support matters. It also gets the ball rolling on the importance of having a conversation and seeking guidance.
Apart from immediate communities, the conversation can spread. This encourages people dealing with issues in different parts of the world to gain the confidence to speak.
There are many reasons why we need to shift our focus to starting a conversation for many reasons. Talking and open discussions are crucial for many reasons. Below are some of them:
It’s no news that there has been, and still is, a stigma around mental health problems. Even the thought of having a conversation about it can make someone feel anxious. This is due to the way many parts of society perceive and discuss such issues.
As a result, the more we embrace having an open conversation about concerns and share our mental health stories, the more we contribute to destigmatizing it. Some people also express themselves and seek solidarity creatively, from getting mental health tattoos to sharing their road to recovery on social media.
Expressing yourself in the way that works best for you can help others gain awareness, rethink mental illness, and better understand their symptoms.
Many people invalidate their experiences even when they’re clearly struggling. It’s easy to hear someone say, “Maybe I’m overreacting,” or “Other people have it worse.”
If you’re concerned, initiating a conversation with a friend or just someone you care about makes a difference. It lets them know that you see them struggling or having a hard time. It also makes it clear that their mental health problem matters.
One of the easiest ways to offer support to a person in your life is to talk and listen. You might be worried that you’re not a professional, making you feel a bit helpless. However, you can turn your worry into action by presenting yourself as a support system. This also opens the doors for you to speak about your experiences if you require support as well.
When you talk to a person, you can share tips and coping mechanisms from personal experiences with each other. In this light, one person can learn from another personal experience and vice versa. You never know where you might grasp tips to help you when you’re dealing with problems.
Many people are less aware when it comes to mental illnesses or disorders compared to physical ailments. Many also seek new ways to handle pressures and stressors in life.
When we talk about mental health and illnesses, it serves as an essential way to learn more. This raises knowledge about symptoms, types, and other areas, encouraging people to increase their understanding.
Amongst friend groups, families, and communities, mental disorders can be prevalent. Without initiating talking as a form of support, we can place a strain on such relationships. It helps to talk with your friend or loved one about how you’re feeling and how they are as well.
Many people wait a long time before seeking professional help. Even after being honest with themselves about their challenges, seeking assistance can be daunting.
In this light, having an open talk with a friend or another person can break anxiety around visiting a doctor. You don’t have to force yourself to give expert advice. Instead, in your own words, you can make someone feel safe. And for it to feel natural to share with you.
People struggle with their mental health for various reasons. These range from chemical imbalances in the brain to adverse life experiences like trauma. It can be difficult to guess or immediately decide what someone is going through.
As a result, you can leave it to them to describe their experiences in their own words. This is where talk comes in. Want to initiate a conversation but feel unsure how to? Here are six ways to talk about mental health.
Start with the environment if you want to talk to someone about your concerns or get them to open up. Go for an environment or setting that’ll make the person comfortable and relaxed.
Naturally, if someone is in a high-energy setting, it might make them feel even more anxious or withdrawn. You can go to natural spaces like the park where it's easier to stay calm or do an activity you know the person enjoys.
You want to ease into the conversation, so the person doesn’t feel uncomfortable. Ask how they’re feeling, how their week has been, or even how work is. Generally, initiate the interaction by checking in on them. This will ease the discussion further and let them know you care.
Instead of asking general questions like “how are you?” you can be more specific. It’s easy for people to instantly answer such a question with the automatic “I’m fine.” As a result, let your genuineness shine through with your choice of words.
Opening up about yourself can make other people feel safe, seen, and understood. It also tells them that it’s okay to be vulnerable. Many of us go through similar experiences but shut ourselves away from others because we feel they won’t understand. As a result, talking about your recent personal concerns and even challenges communicates that you’re creating a judgment-free space.
Sometimes it’s difficult to find the words to let people know that you’re there for them. So, why not state it explicitly? If you’re uncertain of the exact way to assist someone, you can make a difference by letting them know that you’re a safe zone for them.
Nobody has all the answers. Letting someone know in the moment that you’re there for them can make them feel valued and loved.
Everyone has a different experience, and mental health can sometimes be a sensitive topic to discuss. If you’re unsure of what someone needs exactly, why not ask them how you can offer help?
A simple “how can I help?” lets them know you’re genuine about your support. This also empowers the person to talk about their well-being, feelings, and what exactly it is they need.
Instead of trying to portray yourself as having all the answers, listen carefully to what someone is saying. Avoid interrupting them when they speak. Instead, show that you’re actively listening to encourage them to share how they’re feeling.
It also opens the doors to understanding what exactly they need. Apart from your speech, body language also says a lot. Empathize with them and make them feel comfortable.
If you’re reading this and you want to talk about your experience with someone close to you, here are some tips.
Sometimes it can be hard to express how you feel in the moment. If you’re in this situation, writing or journaling about your experience can help you feel less overwhelmed. This way, you can look through your notes when speaking with a confidant. Many professionals also recommend this, even when seeing a therapist.
One of the easiest places to start is speaking with a friend or family member you trust. However, many people have found comfort in speaking with people even outside these circles. Eventually, the goal is to speak with a mental health professional who can tailor treatments to your experience.
It’s okay to move at a pace that’s comfortable for you. Mental health discussions span several conversations. As a result, you don’t have to force yourself to say everything at once. Take it slow and open up at a pace that feels safe and comfortable.
Mental health conversations open up the doors for people to get support as they go through their experiences. Conversations with friends, loved ones, and even acquaintances serve as stepping stones to receiving treatment.
The more we talk, the less stigma society places on mental health and mental illnesses.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.