You don’t need to be an expert to talk to someone who struggling with their mental health and wellbeing.

If someone does open up about their mental health, we know it might not always feel easy to know what to say. But it doesn’t have to be awkward, and being there for someone can make a big difference.

There is no right way to talk about mental health; however, these tips can help make sure you’re approaching it in a helpful way.

Ask twice.

Two women talking about problems at home.

Research shows that ‘How are you?’ can often prompt no more than a meaningless exchange. The simple act of asking again, with interest, shows a genuine willingness to talk and listen. If you’re worried about someone, the next time they say they’re fine, try asking ‘How are you really?’ or ‘Are you sure you’re ok?’

Ask open questions.

We can worry about prying when it comes to mental health, but it’s better to ask open questions. It might help someone to open up, and it shows that you care.

Some questions you can ask are:

  • ‘How are you feeling, at the moment?’
  • ‘How long have you felt like this – is it an ongoing issue?’
  • ‘What does it feel like?’
  • ‘What kind of thoughts are you having?’ 
  • ‘How can I help?’

Don’t try and fix it, just listen well.

Smiling older man talking on mobile phone

Resist the urge to offer quick fixes which can often lead to people to feeling dismissed. Often being listened to is what people really want and is often enough.

Feeling heard and listened to creates a space where people can start to make sense of their experiences and choose what to do next.

Give the person your full focus and listen without interrupting. Listen to their words, tone of voice and body language — all will give clues to how they are feeling.

Accept them as they are and respect the person’s feelings, experiences and values, although they may be different from yours.

Be patient  

It might take a while for the person to feel comfortable talking about what they’re going through, or there might be periods where they’re less communicative. That’s understandable: sometimes, if you’re experiencing a mental health problem, it’s harder to be sociable.  

It might feel frustrating if you’re putting in effort, but try and be patient. They probably appreciate you being in touch even if they’re not responding. 

Treat them the same

Senior father and his young son on a walk.

When someone has a mental health problem, they’re still the same person as they were before. And that means when a friend or loved one opens up about mental health, they don’t want to be treated any differently.
If you want to support them, keep it simple. Do the things you’d normally do.

What to do when someone is in immediate danger

If someone has hurt themselves and you think their injuries are life-threatening, call an ambulance on 999. You can do this whether you are with them in person or not. You will need to be able to give a location.

As a leading charity provider of mental health services across the island of Ireland, we support of thousands of people every year. Working alongside the people we support, we are transforming lives.

Find out more about our services