How to Connect with Friends and Family about Mental Illness

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. If you suspect a friend or family member is struggling with mental illness, there’s no better time to talk with them about it than right now.

Nearly one in five Americans will suffer the debilitating effects of anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or other mental health issues during their lifetime. Despite this frequency, nearly 60 percent of American adults who report that they are suffering from mental illness do not receive treatment. These numbers are staggering, but they likely paint only part of the picture; because of the stigma surrounding mental illness and the associated shame many people feel while experiencing it, a large number of Americans who suffer from mental illness neither report their struggles nor seek treatment.

This problem becomes even more sobering when you consider that 90 percent of Americans who die by suicide have an underlying mental illness. And in the United States, suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death.

Unlike physical injuries, which are often plainly visible to the naked eye, the symptoms of mental illness are usually unseen, which makes it doubly hard to know if and when someone is suffering. And that is why it is absolutely crucial that we feel comfortable talking about mental illness with our friends and family.

Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the U.S, during which many mental health organizations strive to raise awareness and educate the public about mental illnesses, the realities of living with these conditions, and strategies for attaining mental health and wellness.

At Solo Stove, it seems to us that should you have any concerns regarding the mental health of the people you care about, now is as good a time as any to connect with your friends and family about how they’re doing. And sitting around the fire pit in a comfortable, familiar location is about as good a place as you’ll find to do it.

If you’re uncomfortable talking about mental health, know that all it takes to start the conversation is a few words, and doing so could have a massive impact on your friend’s or family member’s health and happiness. It could even save their life.

If you’re not sure where to begin, here are a few ideas about how to bring up the topic of mental health in conversation:

Simply ask, “Are you ok?”

Pick a private moment in a place where you won’t be interrupted, and ask. Listen attentively, and show you’re genuinely concerned by maintaining eye contact and being respectful throughout the conversation. Most people will appreciate the care you’re demonstrating by asking that one simple question.

Tell them you’ve noticed out-of-character behavior, or that they haven’t been themselves

Show concern about any strange and troubling behavior changes you’ve noticed in your friend or family member, and be genuine about why you’re worried for them.

Ask them if there’s anything they want to talk about

This is a great way to get your friend or family member to open up about anything that’s troubling them, which may eventually lead to a conversation about mental health.

Ask if they’re thinking about suicide

If your concern has reached the point that your loved one may self-harm, it’s crucial that you ask this question. (Simply asking will not increase the risk of suicide, according to the National Council of Behavioral Health.) If they answer in the affirmative, it’s important to encourage them to seek out professional help.

Talking to your friends and family about mental illness can be uncomfortable, but broaching the subject when you suspect they may be suffering can make a huge difference, and even save their life. Take the time to show that you care, and start the conversation. It’s better to feel awkward than remorseful.

Learn more about how you can help friends or family members struggling with mental illness at Mental Health America.