Approaching Others About Their Mental Health
Approaching others about their mental health can be an awkward situation, but sometimes it’s necessary. A big regret I have about my brother’s journey with chronic mental illness is that I didn’t raise my concerns about his symptoms sooner. If you’re unsure whether or not to have that difficult conversation with a friend or family member, here are some insights I’ve picked up over the last few years.
What to Remember When Approaching Others About Their Mental Health
The Relationship Is Important
The nature of the relationship you have with a person will largely dictate whether it’s appropriate to approach the person about their mental health or not. Are you someone they would feel safe to confide in, and does the dynamic between you allow for a personal conversation?
To give an example — I’m unlikely to approach my boss about concerns for their mental health unless I also had a personal friendship with them. However, I would feel a duty of care towards friends and family if I noticed they had potential symptoms of mental illness.
Disclaimer: If you think someone is actively at risk of hurting themselves or others, regardless of the relationship you should act on this. Think about what would be an appropriate channel for you to do so — if it’s in work, could you speak to Human Resources? If it’s a sibling that you’re not close to, could you talk to a parent?
Gently Does It
Approaching others about their mental health can provoke a defensive reaction if it isn’t handled gently. Rather than launching into a speech about your observations and concerns, give the other person space to lead the conversation. Pick a time where neither of you will be clock watching and a place where there’s plenty of privacy. What to say? I find a simple, « How are things going for you? » asked in a sincere tone works all sorts of wonders.
It’s Great to Be Wrong
When approaching others about their mental health, be aware that your concerns may not be warranted. Don’t be embarrassed if this is the case. I’ve had a handful of times when someone has pulled me to the side and asked me if everything was okay, when in fact everything was totally okay. Rather than being annoyed, I’ve been touched to know that I have people I can talk to if there ever comes a day when I am struggling.
It’s Okay to Be Right
Sometimes the scariest outcome of approaching others about their mental health is when they confirm that actually there is something serious going on. I’ve linked a video where I talk a bit more about my experience with this — but just know that you did the right thing by asking, they’re doing the right thing by opening up, and the next right thing is to get appropriate supports.
What do you find works when approaching others about their mental health? Leave a comment.