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What to say when someone tells you they have a mental illness

written by Victoria Minshall-Jones 28/07/2017

Starting a conversation about mental health can be a frightening prospect. It can be intimidating for someone who is suffering to let those around them know, but it can also be pretty nerve wracking for those hearing it. This is especially the case if you’ve got no personal experience of mental illness yourself. You may be thinking what on earth can I say that won’t make it worse? How can I let my friend or family member know that it’s OK, without sounding like I don’t care or don’t understand?

A good rule of thumb, think about what you would say if they told you they had a physical illness, like diabetes or asthma. And say that. Then just take the conversation where it would naturally go.

If, like me, you excel in social awkwardness while meaning well in all your interactions with loved ones, here is a handy cut and keep reference of what those starting sentences could be:

I’m sorry to hear that, how are you feeling right now?

Is there anything I can do to help?

That must be pretty challenging

Are you getting help/support/treatment for that?

My sister/Dad/neighbour/best friend/I had something similar. Everyone’s experience is different but you’re not alone.

Let’s get a coffee and have a proper chat.


And then...just take it from there. 

If you would like to write a blog post about your experiences of stigma or related issues, email


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