7 Questions to Help People Talk About Their Mental Health

If you're concerned about someone's state of mind, ask them these questions.

Posted Aug 22, 2020

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Whether you have a family member who seems down, or a friend who appears anxious, mental health can be a tough topic to bring up.

But you shouldn't ignore a potential mental health issue just because you feel awkward asking about it. The other person might want to talk about how they’re feeling, but just aren’t sure how to bring it up.

Asking a few pointed questions invites them to share, if they want to. Addressing your concerns also shows you care.

Of course, you don’t want to run through these questions like a checklist. No one wants to feel like they're being interrogated.

But do try to get a conversation started by asking a question or two. If they aren't interested in talking, that's OK. You can ask again at another time.

1. How have you been?

"How are you?" is most commonly used as a figure of speech. It tends to generate a pleasant reply like, "Fine, thanks for asking."

If you really want to know how someone is doing, however, ask again later in the conversation. Cut through the small talk and show them that you really want to know about their well-being.

You might point out an observation like, "I notice you haven't been going for your walks lately. Is everything OK?"

Or you might talk about a difficult experience the person has gone through by saying, "I've been meaning to ask, how have you been doing since your dog passed away?"

Give the other person time to respond without any interruptions. Be careful not to make any jokes as a way to ease the tension. Instead, show you can handle just sitting with the other person’s pain if they choose to share it.

2. How's your stress level lately?

Sometimes it's easier to talk about an external force like stress rather than an internal problem like anxiety.

So asking someone about their stress level may feel less threatening than outright asking about their mental state. Yet it could lead to a similar conversation about mental health.

3. Have you been eating and sleeping?

Sometimes, people feel comfortable sharing tangible evidence that they're in pain without actually saying they’re hurting.

And quite often, sleep and appetite are impacted by mental health. So someone who is having a hard time might say, "I haven’t been hungry lately," or "I haven't slept for a whole week."

The answers to those questions may give you an opening to talk more. Show empathy by acknowledging their pain, and make it clear that you want them to feel better.

You might say something like, "That must be really rough. Have you thought about talking to your doctor about that?"

4. Is there anything you want to talk about?

Sometimes people need assurance that it's OK to talk about tough subjects.

Inviting them to do so can move the conversation move from superficial subjects to more meaningful topics.

If they aren't interested in talking about anything, don't pry, though. Just let them know you're willing to listen if they ever do want to talk.

5. Would you be willing to talk to someone?

Your loved one might be on the fence about talking to a therapist. Asking them if they’d consider professional help in a nonjudgmental way could encourage them to do it.

If they haven't been thinking about it, mentioning therapy may at least open their mind to the idea.

Asking this question might also show there's no need to be embarrassed about seeing a therapist. If they show interest in getting help you could offer to help them schedule an appointment, or you might even offer to take them.

It can also be helpful to remind the person that they can talk to an online therapist. For many people, online therapy feels less intimidating than seeing a therapist face-to-face.

6. What can I do for you? 

Everyday tasks become much more difficult when you have a mental health issue. So someone who is struggling to feel good might welcome your help. Help may involve range from practical things, like getting groceries, to emotional support, like daily video chats. 

Don't be surprised, however, if they aren't sure what they need. If you see something that might be helpful, make a specific offer like, "Can I help you run errands today?" 

7. When is the best time to check in with you again?

You don't want to force your way into someone's life by saying, "I'm going to call you several times a day just to make sure you’re OK." Over-inserting yourself into someone’s life will likely drive them away.

But you can ask let them know you'd like to check in with them again. Ask them when they prefer for you to do that. Whether they want you to send a text tomorrow or stop by in a couple of weeks, it's OK. Just be sincere by following up and doing what you say you’re going to do.

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