What is mental illness?

How do I bring it up with others?


  • Be prepared: Think about the different reactions, positive and negative, that the person might have so you’re prepared. The person will be thinking about their perception of mental illness, you as a person and how the two fit together.
  • Choose a good time: Choose a time and place when you feel comfortable and ready to talk.
  • Be ready for lots of questions...or none: The person you are talking might have lots of questions or need further information to help them understand. Or they might feel uncomfortable and try to move the conversation on – if this happens it’s still helpful that the first step has been taken.
  • An initial reaction might not last: The person might initially react in a way that’s not helpful – maybe changing the subject, using clichés rather than listening. But give them time.
  • Have some information ready: Sometimes people find it easier to find out more in their own time – why not have one of our leaflets to hand?
  • Keep it light: We know that sometimes people are afraid to talk about mental health because they feel they don’t know what to say or how to help. So keeping the conversation light will help make you both feel relaxed.
  • Take up opportunities to talk: If someone asks you about your mental health, don’t shy away, be yourself and answer honestly.
  • Courage is contagious: Often once mental health is out in the open people want to talk. Don’t be surprised if your honesty encourages other people to talk about their own experiences.

Should I reach out to a friend who is struggling?

You don't have to be an expert to talk about mental illness. If your friend had a broken leg or an operation, you probably wouldn't think twice about asking how they are. Anyone can experience a mental health problem, so being able to openly speak about these issues is important to us all. You don't need to be an expert, though. Sometimes, just doing the little things, like asking someone how they are, is all it takes to let someone know you're still thinking about them and make a big difference to how they're feeling.

There are a lot of simple ways you can support someone with a mental health problem.

  1. Talk, but listen too: Simply being there will mean a lot.
  2. Keep in touch: Meet up, phone, e-mail, or text.
  3. Don't just talk about mental health: Chat about everyday things as well.
  4. Remind them you care: Small things can make a big difference.
  5. Be patient: Ups and downs can happen.

"But what can I do for them?"

Take the lead: If you know someone has been unwell, don’t be afraid to ask how they are. They might want to talk about it, they might not. But just letting them know they don’t have to avoid the issue with you is helpful.

Avoid clichés: Phrases like ‘Cheer up’, ‘I’m sure it’ll pass’ and ‘Pull yourself together’ won’t help. Try to be open minded and non-judgemental. You won't always understand what's going on for the other person, but lending an ear is the important part.

Think about body language: Try to be relaxed and open. It probably goes without saying that a gaping mouth, regular clock watching or looking uncomfortable won’t go unnoticed.

Ask how you can help: People will want support at different times in different ways, so ask how you can help.

Don’t just talk about mental health: Keep in mind that having a mental health problem is just one part of the person. People don't want to be defined by their mental health problem so keep talking about the things you always talked about. Just spending time with the person lets them know you care and can help you understand what they're going through.

Don’t avoid the issue: If someone comes to you to talk, try not to brush them off. Asking for support can be a hard step to take.

Give them time: Some people might prefer a text or email rather than talking on the phone or face to face. This means they can get back to you when they feel ready. What’s important is that they know you’ll be there when they’re ready to get in touch.

Find out more: If you think you might feel awkward or uncomfortable, you could find out more about mental illness. If you think it would help, you could also find about other help that’s available.

How can I stop the silence surrounding mental illness?

  • I will talk openly on the subject of mental illnesses.
  • I will treat those experiencing mental illnesses with respect and dignity.
  • I will look for and correct injustices at school, the workplace, or in my social circles.
  • I will avoid name-calling and using words that describe mental illnesses in a hurtful way.
  • I will recognize that a person’s mental illness is just one part of who they are, it does not define them.
  • I will encourage others to speak up, speak out and just plain speak.