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An Expert’s Advice On: How to talk to someone about Mental Illness

“We take care of our bodies, but we don’t always take care of our minds. Our brain keeps us healthy and coordinates everything we do. Take care of it.”

Starting a conversation with someone who you are worried may be struggling with their mental health can be difficult. How can you be a good support system for those in your life?

We sat down with Dr. Nicole Loreto, Health Psychologist and VP of Communications and Health Promotion at the Royal Ottawa, to discuss tips for having that conversation with someone you care about.

Initiate the conversation

Dr. Loreto stresses the importance of being direct. “Say you are worried about them. Ask them how they’re feeling, and if anything different has been going on,” she explains. “Ask them questions, even the difficult ones. Suicide ideation is something that occurs, and although it is crucial to be empathetic and supportive, be direct.” Ultimately, she emphasizes the best way to reach out to someone is just letting them know you’re concerned about their well-being.

 

Be a good listener

If someone comes to you because they’re struggling with their mental health, what should you do? Dr. Loreto recommends the first thing to do is listen. She explains, “It’s important for you to hear them; if they’re ready to talk about it and they want to get it off their chest, act as a friend and confidant.” In the same breath, Dr. Loreto also notes how you shouldn’t try to be their therapist: “Most people feel they need to be the one to give tips, but there are people out there that have education and training to assess these situations, and offer the proper guidance to manage the issues.” So, listen to this person, be supportive, and then encourage them to seek professional help if necessary. The Royal offers multiple free resources, including their stress line, a mobile crisis team, and a BounceBack interactive program online.

 

Support is just being there

We asked Dr. Loreto how to support someone living with a mental illness, and she explained the significance in encouraging them to continue with their coping strategies, whether it’s meditation, psychotherapy, etc.. “People have to find their own unique mechanisms to cope that work for them. You don’t need to tell them what to do, but remind them to do the things that help them.” She also said to be mindful that, depending on what this person is experiencing, their emotions may come out in anger, anxiety, sadness, or stress. Getting enough sleep, healthy eating, physical activity, meditation, and music are all critical to coping. But on the whole, be kind. “You can support them without saying a lot,” she finished, “just be there.”

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