While attitudes to mental health are changing, BACP research revealed last year, there is still a lot of misconceptions and harmful stigma that exists around mental health conditions and mental illnesses.

Ahead of Time to Talk Day on 2 February, MQ copywriter, Juliette Burton, reveals her Top 10 best (and her top 10 worst) things to say to someone with mental health conditions.


I’ve lived with mental illnesses for most of my life. I barely remember a time before I was aware my mind worked slightly differently to other people’s. So with over 3 decades worth of experience under my belt, I thought it might be helpful to share some of the best and worst things people have said to me over the years about my mental illnesses and when I’m in the midst of them. Hopefully it’s helpful to you, dear reader. It’ll be helpful to me to get some of the worst ones off my chest! So thank you for indulging me. You’re a hero.

The Top 10 BEST things to say

1) We’ll get through this / We’ll figure this out.

It’s the supportive nature of this and the use of the word ‘we’. It reassures me this person will help me through this difficult moment and I am not alone.

2) I’m so sorry. That sounds really difficult.

These sorts of phrases help a person struggling with their well-being feel heard and seen. It helps me feel like my experience is valid. It also allows the person listening to attune to the feelings of the person struggling. Simple, empathetic phrases can be powerful.

3) I am not the right person to help you with this. Have you considered {name of resource}? Or I can’t help you right now but I can talk {day/time}.

Sometimes if I’m struggling with my mental health, I reach out to friends to ask if they’re available to talk. They cannot always be free. They have their own lives. So when they say no but offer an alternative day and time to catch up, it helps get me through that moment of darkness and gives me a time to aim towards to make that connection. Clear Boundaries with follow up is a respectful way of my friends communicating with me while respecting their time too.

Whether it’s a charity like MQ providing help now or a trained professional, the Hub of Hope app or some other resource I can access, giving me a clear boundary that this person cannot help is not a negative thing when followed up with somewhere else to search for help.

4) I’ve noticed {this behaviour} and I wondered if you’d noticed it too? Do you think it might be related to your {name of condition}?

Phrased gently and delivered with compassion, this kind of language invites me to consider my behaviour might have changed recently. It’s useful when it comes from a person who knows me and what my ‘normal’ behaviour is like. It’s usually only useful when it comes from my closest friends. The key thing is to not allow any judgement to become a factor, just curiosity. Sometimes it’s a reflection of behaviour I’m not even aware of and linking it to my mental health condition can be helpful to consider and then prioritise my mental health self-care.

5) Laughter

Laughing with my friends about my mental health conditions take the power out of them sometimes. Making fun of the absurdity and contradictions my conditions put me through can be a great stress relief. A word of caution – make sure you know the person well enough to be aware of their sensitivities. One person’s joke is another person’s sore point. But if you know the person well, laughing with them can be very therapeutic.

6) I’m concerned about you and I need to ask – have you thought about harming yourself or ending your life?

Sometimes when I’m extremely low, my close friends do ask this question. Not once has it caused me to think about taking my life. It helps me feel like that friend takes me distress seriously, and is prioritising my safety. As MQ knows, we need to talk about suicide. And MQ are finding ways to help prevent suicide. If my friends directly address the topic in a safe and secure manner, it helps me feel safe and secure. If I have thought about ending my life, it opens up that conversation. If I share this with that friend and they remain calm and centred in themselves and they then ask if I’ve made any plans to follow those thoughts with action, I am aware I am with a safe person who is not scared to ask the difficult questions. If I ever said “yes” in response, the friend would be right to call the emergency services to ask for the ambulance service to help me. However, not once has this line of questioning led me to take action. Suicidal thoughts are not suicidal actions and talking about suicide ideation without glamorising it or fearing it is a skill that could save lives. It has certainly helped me.

7) Thinking of you / Saw this, thought of you

Recently a friend sent me a message of ‘saw this and thought of you’ along with an image of a card that read “Be loving and full of joy and have boundaries like a {swear word deleted for polite editing}.” This friend knows I’ve done a lot of work on boundaries in recent months so it brightened my day no end. I felt so seen and cherished. Getting little messages of support and connection from friends sometimes is enough for me to begin opening up. Sometimes it’s just a way to keep the lines of communication open in case I need to reach out for support in darker times. If you’re friends or a family member of someone with mental health conditions, sending a little note to stay connected is rarely, in my experience, a negative thing.

8) Hey, I haven’t heard from you in a while. Just wanted to check in. No need to reply. I’m here if you need me.

I love receiving messages like this. If I’m in a mentally well state, it reminds me my friends care about me and think of me. And sometimes it prompts me to communicate more with those wonderful chosen family members. If I’m in a mentally unwell place, it can be the permission I needed to let someone into the darkness surrounding me, however thick and deep it is to me. It’s a way of throwing a rope into the quicksand I might be in; I can grab on by replying even with a word of a GIF to let that person know I’m not okay. Sometimes it’s hard to reach out to friends when I’m in a deep depression or shut down. This little nudge of a message suggests my fear that I’m a burden or alone or unlovable might just be my depression lying to me.

9) Do you have capacity to talk? I’m struggling.

I love it when my friends ask me for help. Having mental illnesses has sometimes meant I’ve felt like I’m constantly leaning on others to help me through. Having a friend trust me to help them makes me feel like a superhero. It’s important not only to ask for help but also to help others. My heart swells with pride when my friends trust and respect me to assist them and it helps my mental health to give back to those I care about.

10) May I ask a question about your mental health condition?

If in doubt, asking questions is a game changer. When my friends are honest that they don’t know something and would like to know more helps open conversations I often long to have. Approaching mental health lived experience with honesty, curiosity and compassion empowers me to have a voice.  And if my friends don’t know something about what it’s like living with my conditions, I love it when they ask me to let them into my world. I mean, I myself still have questions about mental health conditions! That’s why working at MQ is so fantastic – MQ is helping answer questions I’ve been asking for most of my life.

And if you have questions about mental health conditions and mental illness, just like my friends, why not explore MQ’s website to find out more.

What are your favourite things to hear when you’re struggling with your mental health? Get in touch with MQ! We’d love to know. What do you wish people would say to you? Get in touch via our social media channels…

Read the Top 10 Worst Things to say as defined by Juliette here…




The post Time To Talk Day – Top 10 Best Things To Say About Mental Health first appeared on MQ Mental Health Research.

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