Thought of the Week – Communicating with a loved one who is facing mental health challenges.

How do you talk with someone with a mental health challenge?

You want to help your family member or friend when they face mental health issues -but don’t know how?

Here are a few tools that will help you have better understanding and help you communicate better.

Relax and stay calm

No one expects you to be an expert. This is about being open and helping and learning.

Minimise distractions

Put away your phone, go to a quiet place, turn off the television. This shows you are fully engaged in the conversation and that you value the person you are talking to. This goes a long way to open communication.

Listen actively

Make eye contact, don’t listen to reply but listen to hear what is being said.

Make I statements not YOU statements

When trying to explain how you are feeling or how your loved ones mental health challenge is affecting you, say things like “I feel” not “You make me feel”. After all, you own your reaction and no one ever makes you feel anything.

Acknowledge the persons feelings and beliefs

You might disagree with how someone else responds, or you might think that you wouldn’t feel the same way. Do not minimise their feelings, acknowledge them, let them know you hear them.

Show empathy

Be open, honest and relatable. Let them know if you have been there too. Don’t take over their story, but say something like, “I can relate in a way. There have been times I have felt overwhelmed. I feel your pain about that.” DO NOT SAY: “I KNOW HOW YOU FEEL” – You don’t, even if you have had the same mental health challenges, you will not have felt exactly the same because you are not that person.

Things Not to Do

Don’t take it personally

Their illness can make it difficult for them to deal with their emotions and they may not always communicate is the most productive way.

Don’t criticise or lay blame

The key is that communication will help your relationship. Blaming them for their illness will not help. This doesn’t mean you are a door mat. If the other person uses their illness as an excuse to treat you badly, boundaries are necessary.

Avoid sounding patronising or condesending

Your tone is important. Listen to yourself. Maybe even practice and record yourself and see if you can pick up your tone.


This is a hard one. For some people, humour will seem disrespectful. For others, it will break the ice or provide relief in a tough moment. Think about who you are talking too and decide if it is appropraite.

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