How to talk to someone about mental health

“A few months ago, something happened that snapped me right back to my past without any warning, and it floored me. 

“I called a close friend, and no words came out. She asked me where I was and said she would simply sit and listen. For the first five minutes, I couldn’t talk, but I sat crying, which most people would find uncomfortable.

“She simply reached over and held me without any questions, and I think it was the best thing anyone has ever done – listened. She also never refers to it – a confidence I will always remember.” An anonymous friend of the AoC Trust

The problem is that many of us don’t know what to do in these situations – we’re not trained. 

The result is trying to fix someone with our words, passing judgement (often accidentally or trying to help), or not saying anything. 

The fear is ofter ours. 

So, how can you help someone in reality, whether we sense something isn’t right, or a person breaks down?

Noticing is your first act of kindness – remember that. A person could go weeks, months, or years without being noticed.

Secondly, it’s okay to feel uncomfortable and guide them to someone better placed to help. In most cases, that will help them in the long run, no matter what you say. 

1. Ask twice

But honestly, the most simple gestures start with asking TWICE. 

“Are you okay?” 

“Are you sure you’re okay?”

Why does this ‘ask twice’ thing work? Because the second one isn’t a nicety – it shows you genuinely care. 

We’ve all been asked if we’ve had a nice weekend only to reply as the person picks their tea up and exits the kitchen – care is not lip service.

2. Listen

You don’t have to and are often not qualified to help someone ‘fix’ whatever they have going on. 

But unless it’s something harmful, most of us can listen, which helps tremendously. 

Listening without judgement or talking is hard. If anyone tells you that they have been abused, it’s essential to thank them for telling you and tell them you believe them (if asked) – as this initial experience can make a big difference to how they feel. 

Helping an abused person is everyone’s responsibility (as is reporting this to the police if they’re a child or you think a crime has been committed).

Don’t be tempted to tell them about the time you went through a similar situation unless you can be brief. Honesty and being open helps other people open up, but it can also lead to a ‘you’ show and open your wounds.

Try to use more general terms that make them understand they are not on their own and that we all feel low at times – it’s okay to feel rubbish.

3. Know where they can get help

Mental health problems are triggered by a host of areas, with some being easier to support than others. 

Organisations like the Arts of Change Trust (text ‘support’ to 60075) can help mental health needs (privately and with some funding for certain circumstances), and for out-of-hours help, there are services such as the Samaritans and the NHS for emergencies (999) where life is in danger. 

A doctor is usually the first port of call for mental health support and physical symptoms, but the waiting lists can often be large. Most people also don’t realise that you can self-refer directly to a therapist by completing a form (or a guardian can do this if under 18). It’s always important to assess any physical symptoms, though, and doctors can prescribe medication when required.

Abuse can be helped with domestic violence helplines, and child abuse would be the police (999) or NSPCC.

Other areas, such as debt, can be supported by The Citizens Advice Bureau, and most areas also have a foodbank. Jobcentre Plus can also be a tremendous help when additional financial help is required.

For further information and support, call 01384 211168 or email