Tips for starting a conversation

Have you noticed a friend or family member behaving differently? Are they not seeming like their usual self? It might be time to have a conversation with them about their mental health.

Starting a conversation about someone’s mental health may feel daunting or uncomfortable and a good thing to remember is that you don’t need to be a doctor or a mental health professional to talk to someone about how they’re feeling. Having a conversation is often a first step in encouraging a friend or family member to seek support or get the help they need.

Prepare for the conversation

Once you know it’s time to speak with someone, it can be helpful to find out what help is available locally.
Knowing what support’s out there can help make your conversation even more productive.

Pick your timing wisely

Think about the best time and place, taking into account the kind of day or week you’ve both had.
Spend some time doing an activity they enjoy first, whether that’s spending time outdoors, catching up over coffee or going for a drive; the lack of eye contact on drives can help people open up more readily.

Starting the Conversation

Before you start, make sure you feel calm, ready to listen and remember body language and tone of voice are important.

You can start by simply saying how they don’t seem like their usual selves and you can offer examples of changes in their mood or behaviour.
Some phrases to get the conversation started:
“You don’t seem like yourself, is everything ok?”
“You seem to have a lot on your mind lately. Is there anything going on?”
“You seem [describe behaviour or mood change] – is there anything you’d like to talk about?”

Ask open-ended questions

You can help by asking open-ended questions, where they can explore their thoughts, instead of replying with “yes” or “no”.
Be patient with them and try not to predict their situation or make assumptions. Let them finish their sentences without interrupting and hold any comments or questions until they’ve finished speaking.
Asking questions can help you understand what they’re going through such as:
“How has this [experience/feeling] been affecting you?”
“How long have you been feeling like this?”
“I understand how tough that’s been for you. Can you tell me more so I can understand?”

Creating a safe space

There’s no right or wrong way to speak with someone you know about something they’re experiencing, just be yourself and remember this is their story. Your conversation is to try and encourage them to explore what they’re feeling and to understand whether or not they need support to make the situation better.
You can encourage a safe talking space by saying things like:
“Take your time, there’s no rush.”
“I know this can be difficult to talk about and I’m here for you.”
“It sounds like you’ve been going through a lot.”
“I’m here for you.”

Knowing you can’t fix things with one conversation

Let them know you appreciate them sharing what they’re going through and acknowledge how hard it can be to share your feelings in this way.
Be sure to ask what you can do to help and let them know whatever they tell you is in privacy.

Don't be afraid to ask twice

Sometimes people aren’t ready to open up about how they’re feeling straight away and that’s ok.

You can leave the conversation with the message that you’re there for them and that you care.