How to Talk About Mental Health

In today’s day and age, mental health is a HOT topic, and we’re excited about that! However, for many people entering a new, sometimes scary world of discussions about inner workings, mindset, worldviews, diagnoses, emotions, and more, it may be daunting to get pulled into a discussion about mental health. 

If you’re struggling to understand what kind of language to use to participate in discussions around mental health, or even to discuss your own, this guide will help you get started on the right track. Remember, words have power - it’s important to understand and use the right ones. 


It can be easy when discussing mental health conditions to blame the sufferers, but in reality, most mental health disorders are an ailment, not a choice. It becomes very hard for those struggling with mental health issues to openly discuss and heal from their condition when we introduce a sense of shame into the conversation. What does this look like? When we use phrases like “She’s suicidal” or “He’s abusing drugs” we put the blame on the person suffering from the mental health condition. 

Instead, choose to eliminate the distance between you and others by acknowledging that we all have our mental health struggles, and choosing phrases like “She struggles with suicidal thoughts” and “He has a substance use disorder.” 

Creating an open, safe space for people to feel they can discuss their challenges without bringing shame and judgment into the conversation benefits everyone involved. 


The majority of individuals with mental health conditions have a complicated history of childhood, environmental, experiential, and even genetic circumstances or conditions that contribute to their mental health struggles. In light of this, it’s super important to keep in mind that you can never truly understand someone else’s journey or all of the profound, personal, and traumatic factors that can go into their diagnosis. 

This is very similar in nature to the concept of avoiding shame or blame in our discussions. A great example of this would be saying someone’s sibling “committed” suicide versus “died by suicide.” 

Remember that everyone involved is very human, and that our conditions are complex and often difficult to understand. You’re probably not a therapist, so avoid diagnosing or labeling others and their choices as you create that safe place we referenced for them to discuss their challenges. 


ALWAYS acknowledge the individual before you discuss their mental health conditions. If you start by talking about their challenges and struggles, it can be easy for you, others, or even the subject of the conversation to forget that they are a real person with highs, lows, strengths, weaknesses, and beautiful potential. 

One example would be “she’s traumatized” instead of “she’s living with PTSD,” or “she’s thriving through her mental health challenges”... or “he suffers from mental health problems” instead of “he’s living with a mental health condition.” 

Also, don’t forget to give credit where credit is due! Just because you are not personally struggling with a mental health condition doesn’t mean you can’t acknowledge the uphill battle others are facing. For instance “Julia is amazing, she’s living with Bipolar Disorder and working through that challenge every day.”


While we’ve used the term a lot in this more generalized writeup, the reality is that “mental health condition” is vague and offers little insight into what that individual is going through or wrestling with. When/if possible, it’s better to mention their specific condition or disorder in order to reference an experience that is personal to them (rather than lumping them into a generalization). Specifying can help reduce the stigma around mental health! 

A great example could be calling someone “mentally ill” instead of “they were recently diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.”


Everyone deserves a stigma-free world where they can openly express their thoughts and feelings, learn, grow, and find a healthier, happier reality with more freedom from their mental health challenges. For this reason, the following terms should NEVER be used to describe those living with mental health conditions: 

  1. Pyscho
  2. Retarded
  3. Lunatic
  4. Mental
  5. Crazy/Nuts
  6. Disturbed

Finally, if you’re new to discussions around mental health and someone brings up a diagnosis, condition or challenge with you, here are a few critical things to remember as you engage in conversation with them: 

  • Listen: Let them complete their thoughts without interruption and allow them space to describe their experiences. 
  • Relate: If you have any way to relate to their experience, do it! This will help them to feel less alone (just make sure you don’t make yourself the focus of the conversation as a result). 
  • Don’t Judge: As we discussed, don’t offer judgment, blame, shame, or labeling. This will just close the door to future conversations and can make their condition worse. 
  • Don’t Minimize: In your efforts to relate and understand, avoid minimizing their feelings or experiences with degrading language such as “I’m sure you’ll be fine.” 
  • Be Available: If someone feels safe talking to you and it doesn’t impact your own mental health in a negative way, make sure they know you’ll be available and open to talk again. If you need to set boundaries, let them know specifically when you’re available to discuss their concerns.
  • Keep Confidence: Remember, talking about mental health conditions is hard and can be scary and overwhelming for the person sharing. If they didn’t tell you to share with others, let them share on their own terms. 
  • Do Your Research: Not sure exactly what they’re experiencing or how to talk about it? There are tons of amazing resources online from reputable health, government, and mental health organizations. 
  • Stay Alert: Remember, if someone is confiding in you about suicidal thoughts, it’s important to take them seriously. For advice on how to manage this type of shared information, you can call the National Suicide Hotline yourself at 9-8-8. 

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