6 ways to start a conversation about mental health

It can be hard to speak to your loved ones about their health, especially mental health. But it’s more important than ever that we check in with each other, given the increase in mood-related difficulties. Emotional Wellbeing Lead Gosia Bowling shares her tips for getting the conversation started.

Talking is good for us, and speaking about mental health can prevent problems from getting worse.

When you encourage the people in your life to open up about what they're going through, it gives them the space to air their thoughts and feelings.

It also lets them know you're there for them. It’s not about trying to fix anything, it’s about listening to them. You can also let them know about the professional support available, so they know how to seek help if needed.

Here are 6 ways into a conversation around mental health, so you can check the people in your life are really okay.

1. Make an observation

If you’ve noticed that your friend’s mood has changed or they’re acting differently – this can mean they’re having difficulties and in need of someone to talk to. You don’t need to know what the problem is, but it can help to make an observation.

For people who find it hard to open up about their feelings, here are some different ways you could get the conversation started:

  • “How are you? You seem more tired than usual.”
  • “Hey. How are you doing? You don’t seem your usual self and I’ve been a bit worried about you.”

2. Share your experience

One major barrier to seeking help, is the fear of being singled out or seen as different. This means your friends will be less likely to seek the support they need to return to wellness.

Talking about your own experience shares the message that we all have mental health, and helps your friend feel safe and understood.

Here are some examples:

  • “Hey. How are things with you? I know it can be hard to talk about how you’re feeling, but it can help. When I was feeling anxious/having panic attacks, chatting about it with someone really helped me.”
  • “Hi. How are things with you? I know you’ve been having a tough time recently. When I was feeling down last year, I found it really hard to focus at work, but it really helped me to talk about it.”

  • 3. Acknowledge any difficulties you know about

    Although you might not know what someone is going through exactly, you may have some awareness of their situation or problem.

    It can help to be direct in this case as it shows respect, care and concern. This can be easier than leaving your friend to bring things up and you can leave the invitation to talk open.

    For example:

    • “Hi. I know you’ve been having some difficulties with your relationship recently. How are things?“

    4. Ask twice

    If they respond with ‘I’m fine’ or ‘I’m okay’, it can help to ask again. This shows that you have genuine concern and interest, and it’s more likely you’ll have a meaningful conversation. You could ask:

    • “Are you really okay? I’m worried about you.”

    5. Walk and talk

    Sometimes doing an activity such as going for walk can ease any awkwardness. Engaging in an activity your friend enjoys can be a good way to get the conversation going in a neutral environment.

    What about saying:

    • “I’ve been hoping to catch up with you for a while. Fancy going for a walk and getting some fresh air?”

    6. Signpost them to support

    You don’t have to know all about a problem or how to offer solutions. Sometimes simply talking can be a great form of support.

    If you’re worried about someone (especially if you notice an increase in risk taking behaviour, substance use, or signs of loss of interest in life or hopelessness), signpost them to support such as their GP or a mental health professional.

    A Nuffield Health we offer a range of mental health support, so we can provide the best help depending on the situation.

    Last updated Tuesday 23 August 2022

    First published on Wednesday 2 February 2022