Even bringing up the issue of mental illness with a friend or co-worker can be tough. You might be mistaken, you could be misdiagnosing, or they simply might not want to talk about it with you or with anyone.
Mental health professionals agree that there are right and wrong things to say and right and wrong things to do:
- If you’re going to talk to them, do it in a space that’s comfortable and where you’re less likely to be interrupted.
- Ease into the conversation, gradually. It may be that the person is not in a place to talk, and that is OK. Greeting them and extending a gentle kindness can go a long way. Sometimes less is more.
- Be respectful, compassionate and empathetic to their feelings by engaging in reflective listening, such as “I hear that you are having a bad day today. Do you want to talk about it?”
- Be a good listener, be responsive, give them the opportunity to talk and open up but don’t press.
- Share some personal insights as a way of encouraging easy conversation, and reduce any defensiveness by sharing your feelings and looking for common ground.
- Make sure to speak at a level appropriate to their age and development level. Keep in mind that mental illness has nothing to do with a person’s intelligence.
- Always be aware of the signs that the person is becoming upset or confused, doesn’t want to talk about certain issues or wants to end the conversation. Don’t get mad or frustrated and end it on a good note – “I’m always here if you need someone.”
- Offer your support and connect them to help if you feel that they need it.
Things to Avoid Saying:
- “Just pray about it.”
- “You just need to change your attitude.”
- “Stop harping on the negative, you should just start living.”
- “Everyone feels that way sometimes.”
- “You have the same illness as my (whoever).”
- “Yes, we all feel a little crazy now and then.”
Things to Avoid Doing:
- Criticizing blaming or raising your voice at them.
- Talking too much, too rapidly, too loudly. Silence and pauses are ok.
- Showing any form of hostility towards them.
- Assuming things about them or their situation.
- Being sarcastic or making jokes about their condition.
- Patronizing them or saying anything condescending.