Can we always talk openly?

One of the most persistent difficulties about fostering our children’s mental health is how we talk about it to our kids and among other adults. We recently received this question:

Can we always talk openly about mental health difficulties?

Let's talk

This question is so important, and it’s one that many others have also tried to address. has an article about how should we talk about mental health. The folks at asked several mental health experts about how we should go about discussing mental health, and these were their answers:

  1. Know what stigma is, and end it
  2. Avoid connections between criminality and mental illness
  3. But do connect more between mental illness and suicide
  4. Avoids words like “crazy” or “psycho”
  5. If you feel comfortable talking about your own experiences with mental health, by all means, do so
  6. Don’t define a person by his/her mental illnesses
  7. Separate the person from the problem
  8. Sometimes the problem isn’t that we’re using the wrong words, it’s that we’re not talking at all
  9. Recognize the amazing contributions of people with mental health differences
  10. Humor helps, when appropriate and used with skill and sensitivity

Number 5 on the list is extremely important. While it is essential to openly discuss mental health, we must be aware of the cues from others. For example, we might be comfortable talking about mental health or sharing our own experience, but that does not mean everybody is ready.

Also, even if we mean well, it is important to not put pressure on others to tell you anything they’re not ready to talk about. Talking can take a lot of trust and courage. You might be the first person they have been able to talk to about this. If someone doesn’t want to talk about mental health, try not to take it personally. It can be difficult, but it is important to keep trying.

Other tips for openly talking about mental health:

  • Show respect, compassion, and empathy
  • Be an active, attentive listener (e.g., make eye contact)
  • Give others the opportunity to talk
  • Be aware of a person becoming upset or confused by the conversation
  • Ask appropriate questions
  • Speak in a relaxed and calm tone

Have you developed strategies to open conversation with other parents and with your child? … It can help others and ourselves, too, when we share our own experiences, so please share your experiences below!

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