Break the Ice – talk about mental health with friends and family

Aditi Kulkarni

Published on

Do you know someone who is struggling with a mental health issue? Have you ever wondered how you can be there for them without offending them? Read on to learn more.

Human beings are social by their very nature. The desire to connect and share is innate, and different people find different ways to achieve this. However, for a fairly verbose society that has an opinion on everything under the sun, we are often at a loss for words when it comes to talking about mental health issues. Is it because people don’t care? Is it because these issues aren’t equally serious? Most often, it is due to lack of awareness. People don’t know what to say.

Here are a few tips to guide you.

#1 Be respectful

Accord the same respect to them as you would to any person. The worst thing you can do to a person with mental illness is to reduce them to a set of symptoms. There is always more to a person than their illness.

#2 Ask them how they are feeling

If someone you know has undergone a surgery, or met with an accident, you will probably drop by to see how they are doing, or maybe send flowers or call. Mental illness may not be visible like physical illness, but it is still a medical condition. It is nothing to be ashamed of. Don’t hesitate to ask the person how they are doing. The first step towards de-stigmatizing mental health issues is to talk openly about them. It is up to them whether they wish to talk about it or not, but your concern will reassure them that they can turn to you if they need someone to talk to.

#3 Find out more about their condition

Misconceptions about people struggling with mental health issues range from bizarre to cruel. False assumptions such as: they are dangerous, they are not capable of work etc. are detrimental to their wellbeing. Awareness is the first step towards challenging stereotypes. The more you know, the less likely you are to say something that might hurt or offend them.

#4 Be sensitive

Do not say things like ‘It’s all in your head’, ‘You will feel better if you distract yourself’ or ‘Try to snap out of it’. Mental illnesses are physiological disorders and one cannot choose to get in or out of it. Implying that it is somehow the person’s fault that they have the illness can hamper their recovery.

#5 Convey that you are there for them

Not everyone might want to talk about what they are going through. But knowing that there’s nothing to hide and that they have in you a non-judgmental listener, can do wonders for the self-esteem of a person with mental illness. Let them know that you are willing to listen to them, or provide assistance if they so require.

#6 Inquire if they have adequate healthcare and support

Due to the stigma involved, many people avoid seeking the necessary healthcare when it comes to mental health. If someone around you seems to be struggling with such an issue, recommend them to use a local counselling service, or to see a doctor (whichever seems more appropriate). Talking about it openly will make them comfortable about accessing the appropriate service.