Mental health is as integral to our well-being as physical health. It encloses emotional, psychological and social well-being, addressing how we think, feel and act, determining how we manage our feelings, communicate with others and make choices.

Mental health stigma is one of the grounds for discrimination and its justification. There are three main categories of stigma:

  • Public stigma involves discriminatory attitudes toward mental health conditions.
  • Self-blame is the negative attitude of a person with a mental health condition towards self, including shame.
  • Systemic stigma includes intentional or unintentional restrictions on persons with mental health conditions by authorities or organizations. For example, less funding for mental health research or fewer mental health services compared to other public health services.

How to talk about mental health

Every word spoken can have hefty consequences, and every discriminatory remark can lead to further isolation.

Try to follow this guideline:

  • Do not criticize, and do not give a diagnosis. Everyone deserves a space free from judgment.
  • Speak and listen as much as it takes. Do not ask for details if your interlocutor is not ready to talk. It requires a lot of trust and courage to discuss painful topics.
  • Do not try to diagnose or guess the feelings. You are most likely not a mental health professional. Take that into account during the conversation, no matter how much you want to be supportive.
  • Ask questions without assumptions that are supportive and easy to answer. For example, ask, “How are you feeling?” instead of “Don’t you feel well?”
  • Talk about well-being. Talk about coping with stress and self-care, healthy diet, exercises, and how healthy sleep can improve mental health and foster well-being.
  • Listen, be patient and make sure you got it right. Try to understand how your interlocutor is feeling, and what kind of support they need from you.