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Talking About Mental Health

Written by Grace Huang

With the busy school year and upcoming holidays, we may be feeling a whole range of emotions, from sadness to irritation. It’s important to normalize these feelings and be aware of any friends and/or family members who may be experiencing mental health challenges.

It can feel awkward to talk about mental health, but sometimes, that’s what makes it ever so important to talk about. Many may feel a stigma when it comes to mental health, and talking about mental health can not only help one begin to feel better, but also encourage others to share their mental health challenges.

Noticing a Problem

If you notice a friend or family member not seeming themselves lately, it’s a good idea to check in on them. Some emotions and behaviors to look out for may include:

  • Severe sadness

  • Mood swings

  • Withdrawal from friends and activities

  • Changes in sleep or appetite

  • Difficulty concentrating

Checking in with Others

Reaching out can be essential in helping others feel supported, even if it feels awkward at first. Let the person know that you are there for them and care for their well-being. Here are some tips on how to get started.

  • Start with a flexible but supportive approach. Dr. Greenwald, a psychiatrist at Northwestern Medicine Regional Medical Group, advises mentioning, for example, “Maybe it’s just me, but you’ve seemed more down than usual. If you ever want to talk about it, I’m here.” Keep in mind that not everyone is comfortable with sharing their mental health struggles, so make sure to respect their boundaries.

  • Listen. If they feel comfortable with sharing, let them finish their thoughts without interrupting them. Show them that you care and are taking them seriously.

  • Be mindful of their struggles. Try not to be dismissive, as no one is to blame for their mental health struggles. In fact, many of us experience these mental health issues.

  • Let them know if you understand. If you have experienced something similar, telling them can let them know that they aren’t alone in their struggles.

  • Let them know that you’re available to talk. Mental health issues usually aren’t solved after a conversation. If they continue to struggle, let them know that they can contact you again and that you are there for them.

  • Continue checking in. Doing so can make them feel valued and supported, and let them know that they have a support system to rely on.

Reaching Out for Support

If you believe you are experiencing mental health issues, know that mental illness is treatable. Sometimes talking about it can be the first step towards receiving help and support. Your friends and family care about you and your well-being, and it’s never a bother to reach out for help. Know that a mental illness does not define who you are.

Find someone you trust, whether that be a friend, family member, teacher, counselor, or other trusted individual.

If a face-to-face talk is intimidating, you can also write a letter or send a text message to get a conversation started.

If you are thinking of harming yourself, call the National Suicide Prevention Line at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).


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