Starting a Mental Health Dialogue with a Friend

How to talk about mental health with a friend

Walter Winchell once said, "A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out". Strong friendships are those that persevere through the bad times just as much as they flourish during the good times. However, due to the stigma of mental health and the shame that many feel speaking openly about their struggles, the topic of mental illness is rarely brought up between close friends.

If you've noticed a difference of behavior in a close friend, you may feel apprehensive to bring up the subject. Showing that you're there for your friend through their struggles to act as their support system can make a world of difference to them.

As a little boost to get the dialogue started, here are 4 suggested steps:
two young women having a serious mental health dialogue with a friend

1. Recognize the signs. Learning the signs of manifestations of mental illness is the first step to realizing that your friend may need help without them verbalizing it and feeling too vulnerable. If you notice a change in behavior, such as acting impulsively, engaging in excessive substance use, talking about feelings of hopelessness, or keeping to themselves more often, it may be a sign that they're struggling more than they'd like to admit. It's also important to keep an eye on social media behaviors, as expressing feelings behind a screen may be more comfortable for them. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) put together a comprehensive guide to recognize the signs.

2. Start the conversation. It's up to you to bring up the topic of mental health if you feel your friend is struggling, but that doesn't mean you have to jump right into a serious heart-to-heart conversation. Inviting your friend to hang out and grab a bite to eat, go for a drive, or go for a walk can lead into asking how they're feeling. It may help to talk about your own feelings and struggles to show your friend this is a safe space. The Seize the Awkward campaign put together a list of possible conversation starters to get the ball rolling.

3. Keep dialogue open and honest. Keep the conversation relaxed. This is a conversation between two friends, not a therapy session. Let your friend take the lead and listen, sometimes just being there for them as a shoulder to cry on can be enough. Don't pressure them or demand answers, let them open up at they're own speed. Encourage them to seek professional help. Let your friend know that what they're feeling is completely understandable, acceptable, and nothing to be ashamed of.

4. Keep the conversation going. Talking about mental health is not a once-and-done ordeal. In order to truly support your friend, it's important to keep building trust with one another. Just simply checking in every now and then can be the difference they need to feel validated.

two young men talking over coffee mental health dialogue with a friend

At the core of a true friendship is love and trust. Show your friends you care by starting a dialogue about mental health and become apart of the movement to break the stigma. If you or a friend is experiencing mental health struggles, clinicians in our Counseling & Wellness Centers can help.

Call our main number at 844-4-ACENDA (844-422-3632 x9500) for more information or to schedule an appointment.

More in the Mental Health Dialogue series:
Starting a Mental Health Dialogue with Your Partner
Starting a Mental Health Dialogue with Your Child