Choose Your Words

Some tips to start a conversation with someone about concerns around mental health.

DO: Observe, Communicate, Respect
DON’T: Assume, Alienate, Label

Start a Conversation

  • Educate yourself before approaching the topic of mental health.
  • Find a place that’s both comfortable and private.
  • Don’t just talk about mental health – talk about other things you normally discuss or an activity/hobby you share.
  • Pick a time when you can both chat without interruption or distraction.
  • Be relaxed, open and approachable in your body language.
  • Validate their feelings.
  • Ask open-ended questions: ‘How are you?’ or ‘What’s been going on?’

Listen Without Judgment

  • Whatever they are saying, take it seriously.
  • Ask ‘How does it make you feel?’ or ‘How long have you felt that way?’
  • Do not interrupt.
  • Encourage them to explain what they are struggling with.
  • Avoid using stigmatizing words and language.

Encourage Action

  • Show that you’ve listened by recapping.
  • Ask them to write their feelings down if that is more comfortable than speaking.
  • Help them think about options and next steps.
  • If necessary, encourage them to see a doctor or health professional.
  • Offer to go with them to see a doctor or health professional.
  • Urge them to commit to doing one thing that might help.

Follow Up

  • Put a note on your calendar to call them in one week. If they’re really struggling, follow up sooner.
  • Schedule regular get-togethers to touch base or just spend time together doing fun activities.
  • Make sure they’ve managed to take that first step and see someone.
  • Some helpful comments: “How are things going? Did you speak with your doctor?
    What did they suggest? What did you think of their advice?
    You’ve had a busy time. Would you like me to make the appointment?”
  • If they didn’t find this experience helpful, urge them to try a different professional because there’s someone out there who can help them.

Dealing with Denial?

  • If they deny the problem, don’t criticize. Acknowledge they’re not ready to talk.
  • Avoid a confrontation with the person unless it’s necessary to prevent them hurting themselves or others.
  • Say you’re still concerned about changes in their behavior and you care about them.
  • Some helpful comments: “It’s ok that you don’t want to talk about it but please don’t hesitate to call me when you’re ready to discuss it. Can we meet up next week for a chat? Is there someone else you’d rather discuss this with?
  • Ask if you can check in again next week if there’s no improvement.

Is Their Life in Danger?

  • If someone says they’re thinking about suicide, it’s important you take it seriously.
  • Ask if they’ve begun to take steps to end their life. If they have, it’s critical that you do NOT leave them alone and do NOT use guilt or threats to prevent suicide.
  • Tell them that you care about them and you want to help. Don’t become agitated, angry or upset.
  • Even if someone says they haven’t made a plan for suicide, you still need to take it seriously.
  • Don’t hide suicidal comments even if asked to keep confidential – reach out for help.
  • Explain that thoughts of suicide are common and don’t have to be acted upon.
  • Get immediate crisis help by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Additional Resources

Looking for more ways to help yourself or another? Take a look at the categories below to find a list of links to get you started in the right direction. 

Find out how to talk to anyone about mental health.

Check out our Talk Tool for guidance.