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Conversation Starters

This set of tips is about starting and continuing conversations with a friend about their mental health. These tips do not replace professional support, but are a way to start the conversation and guide your friend to accessing professional help if they need it. 

Sometimes people feel intimidated talking face to face. Plan an activity like going for a walk or colouring. This might help break the ice. 

Don't be afraid to ask follow-up questions. If a loved one says something that concerns you, ask for more info. Chances are they would be relieved to have an open and honest conversation.

There are always celebrities in the news speaking about their mental health, use the latest story to jump-start the conversation. 

Don't take "I'm fine" at face value. If you are worried about your friend and their responses aren't matching with their actions it's okay to ask follow up questions. "Are you really okay? You don't seem like yourself lately." 

Not sure where to start? Check out this fun way to help you plan ahead.

If you are concerned about someone's safety, it is okay to ask if they are contemplating suicide. Talking about suicide doesn't cause suicide! If they say yes, reach out to a crisis line or call 911 if they are an immediate harm to themselves.

If you've noticed changes, this could be a good place to start: "I've noticed that you're bailing on plans a lot lately. That's not like you and I'm kind of worried about you. Is everything OK?"

When someone shares something with you and you're not sure what to say, try: "What have you done in the past to cope with a similar situation?"

Check out Seize The Awkward for a whole bunch of tips and resources related to getting the conversation started and what to do during the conversation. P.S. the videos are hilarious!

Having a specific concern can help move the conversation along, as opposed to a "How's it going?" try, "I really care about you and I'm concerned about (insert concern here). How are you feeling about it?". This approach might lead to a richer conversation. 

Try to stick with open-ended questions. An open ended question is one that can't be answered with a yes/or no. For example "How are you feeling about your test results?"

Check out this helpful section on the Time to Change website. It offers advice depending on different situations or concerns you might have about your friend. 

If you bring up concerns about someone's mental health and they don't want to talk, don't worry! It takes time to open up. In the meantime, suggest they connect with someone else they trust, like their doctor, teacher, parent or another friend.

You might feel awkward and uncomfortable asking your friend about their mental health, but try to push through those feelings. Mental health is important and bringing up this topic will let your friend know you are there for them no matter what.

If you've tried to check in with someone but they aren't interested in talking, make sure to follow up and stay connected. It might just be that it wasn't the right time for them to open up and another day/time might be right.

Choose the right time and place to have the conversation. Make sure you are in a private space and you have time to sit and chat. It's hard for people to open up, so anything you can do to set the stage will make it that much easier.

It can be hard to start the conversation. Make time to spend time with your loved one. Spending time with people signals that you care, and this might make someone more likely to open up. 

These conversations aren't always easy. Your friend might get mad at you for bringing it up. That's OK! Let your friend know you are there for them if they want to talk another time. You've planted a seed for future conversations. 

Watch your body language, as it sends a messgage to those around you. Try to uncross your arms and legs, as this signals that you are closed off to what people have to say. 

When people open up, validate their experiences by saying things like "that must be hard to deal with" or "that sounds stressful". This helps people feel listened to and encourages them to continue talking. 

If someone says something shocking or upsetting, make sure to focus on your breathing. This will help you stay present and support your loved one as they share their story. Reach out if you feel triggered by what someone has said or you need support. 

Not sure what to say? Be honest. You could say: "I'm not sure what to say. It seems like you're going through a lot. I want to support you. Maybe we can get you some help." You don't have to have all the answers, just focus on supporting your friend

Most of the time people don't need or want advice, they just want to be listened to. Give them time to share their story, listen supportively, and add your input only when asked to.

Be patient. Opening up takes time, so let people share at their own pace.

Once your loved one has shared their story with you, you could ask, "What can I do to support you?"

Try to avoid telling someone to "cheer up" or that they "just need to get busy and out of the house". Those types of responses might make someone feel worse.

It's common to want to take your friend for a drink to make the conversation less awkward. Try to avoid this as drugs and alcohol can make someone's mental health go from bad to worse.

We often assume that mental health improves quickly once you're receiving treatment, but this isn't always true. Keep checking in with your friend or family member. They will appreciate your ongoing support.

Avoid talking about your own personal experience or telling them you know how they feel. Everyone's experiences are different, what works for one person might not work for another. If you're too focused on your own experiences, you might not be able to listen fully to what the other person is saying.

If your friend has been struggling for more than two weeks, encourage them to seek professional support. You can listen, but you aren't a trained professional and can only do so much.