How to Start a Conversation around Mental Health – Joyce Godswill

Initiating a conversation about mental health can be difficult due to the misconceptions that surround this topic. It often feels like a battle within your mind, figuring out how to approach the subject without unintentionally offending someone by implying they are mentally unstable.

This situation, as contradictory as it is, calls attention to the need for change. Starting a conversation about mental health awareness should not be as challenging as it currently is. In this article, I will share valuable tips on how to initiate a conversation about mental health without causing offense or discomfort.

However, before then, let’s revisit the meaning of mental health.

According to Sartorius and Till in 2013, mental health refers to an individual’s ability to form and maintain social interactions, affectionate relationship with others, acknowledge positive actions and manage emotions such as feeling sad and alone.

In countries like Nigeria, where religion often influences our mindset and judgment, discussions about mental health are not given the attention they deserve, especially in educational settings. This has allowed the stigma around mental health to spread like wildfire, fueled by cultural beliefs.

I’ve witnessed numerous cases of children displaying signs or symptoms of mental disorders being labeled as “Ogbanje” without proper knowledge and treatment from mental health professionals. In Nigeria, “Ogbanje” refers to a possessed child. However, in many cases, this label is a result of our deep-seated cultural and religious beliefs. It blinds us to the possibility of mental disorders that can be addressed with the help of experts.

This stigma has forced many individuals to suffer in silence due to the fear of being stigmatized. While there is no unique method to initiate a conversation about mental health, there are effective approaches to consider.


When initiating a conversation about mental health, consider the following approaches:

𝟭.𝗕𝗲𝗴𝗶𝗻 𝘄𝗶𝘁𝗵 𝗮𝗻 𝗢𝗽𝗲𝗻 𝗖𝗼𝗻𝘃𝗲𝗿𝘀𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻:

When starting such a sensitive topic, try not to appear overly professional or create an awkward atmosphere. Instead, approach it as a friend. A simple, genuine, and kind gesture like asking, “How are you?” shows your concern and care for them. This simple gesture can go a long way in starting a meaningful conversation, as it encourages the other person to share their feelings and thoughts with you.

𝟮. 𝗕𝗲 𝗡𝗼𝗻-𝗷𝘂𝗱𝗴𝗺𝗲𝗻𝘁𝗮𝗹: Avoid being critical or judgmental when discussing mental health disorders. Provide a safe space for the other person to vent and express their emotions without fear of criticism. Listening without judgment is crucial to creating a connection.

𝟯. 𝗦𝗵𝗮𝗿𝗲 𝗬𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗢𝘄𝗻 𝗘𝘅𝗽𝗲𝗿𝗶𝗲𝗻𝗰𝗲: Sharing your personal experiences can help the other person realize they are not alone on their journey. It instills a sense of safety and trust in the conversation. If you lack personal experience, you can share the stories of others to convey the message that they are not alone.

𝟰. 𝗟𝗶𝘀𝘁𝗲𝗻 𝗠𝗼𝗿𝗲:Encourage the other person to share their thoughts and feelings. Be a good listener and let the conversation revolve around them, not you. Provide them with the opportunity to ask questions, even if you don’t have all the answers. Remember the saying, “A problem shared is a problem halved.”

𝟱. 𝗧𝗿𝗲𝗮𝘁 𝗧𝗵𝗲𝗺 𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗦𝗮𝗺𝗲: I have been in a conversation with someone that, at the end of it, I honestly didn’t know how to treat that person. There were too many emotions in their story, and I knew that the last thing they needed was to be pitied. So, I had no choice but to act like the conversation never happened, and I later found that it actually helped them be more free and open around me. In some conversations, emotions run deep, and it’s challenging to know how to react. Avoid the temptation to offer pity or treat the person differently. Treating them the same way you always have can make them feel more comfortable and open. Treating them differently can cause them to withdraw and suffer in silence.

𝟲. 𝗢𝗳𝗳𝗲𝗿 𝗦𝘂𝗽𝗽𝗼𝗿𝘁: Extend a helping hand by recommending books or suggesting that they consult a mental health professional when needed. Provide them with resources to guide them on their journey to better mental health.

These are key tips to start a conversation about mental health disorders with friends or loved ones. However, you might wonder, “How do I start a conversation about mental health with someone who has no prior knowledge?”

𝗧𝗶𝗽𝘀 𝗼𝗻 𝗛𝗼𝘄 𝘁𝗼 𝗦𝘁𝗮𝗿𝘁 𝗮 𝗖𝗼𝗻𝘃𝗲𝗿𝘀𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝗔𝗯𝗼𝘂𝘁 𝗠𝗲𝗻𝘁𝗮𝗹 𝗛𝗲𝗮𝗹𝘁𝗵 𝘄𝗶𝘁𝗵 𝗦𝗼𝗺𝗲𝗼𝗻𝗲 𝘄𝗶𝘁𝗵 𝗡𝗼 𝗣𝗿𝗶𝗼𝗿 𝗞𝗻𝗼𝘄𝗹𝗲𝗱𝗴𝗲:

𝟭. 𝗞𝗻𝗼𝘄 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗥𝗶𝗴𝗵𝘁 𝗧𝗶𝗺𝗲 𝘁𝗼 𝗧𝗮𝗹𝗸 𝗔𝗯𝗼𝘂𝘁 𝗜𝘁:

Timing is crucial when discussing mental health with someone who has no prior knowledge. Find a quiet place where you won’t be distracted and where the person can fully focus on the conversation. If the conversation takes place in a school setting, coordinate with the school board to select an appropriate time when students are most receptive. As the Bible says, “There is a time for everything,” and timing is paramount in this context.

𝟮. 𝗨𝘀𝗲 𝗦𝗶𝗺𝗽𝗹𝗲 𝗟𝗮𝗻𝗴𝘂𝗮𝗴𝗲: When discussing mental health with individuals who are not familiar with the subject, always use simple terms so they can easily understand and get the message you are trying to convey. Avoid jargon or complex terms that might confuse them.

𝟯. 𝗟𝗲𝘁 𝗧𝗵𝗲𝗺 𝗞𝗻𝗼𝘄 𝗬𝗼𝘂’𝗿𝗲 𝗧𝗵𝗲𝗿𝗲 𝘁𝗼 𝗦𝘂𝗽𝗽𝗼𝗿𝘁 𝗧𝗵𝗲𝗺: Even with basic knowledge, someone unfamiliar with mental health might have questions and concerns. Make it clear that you are there to support, provide care, and answer any questions they have regarding mental health. This reassurance creates an environment where they feel comfortable asking questions and seeking help.

𝟰. 𝗔𝘀𝗸 𝗤𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻𝘀: Encourage them to open up by asking questions. Inquire about their feelings and whether they’ve ever felt overwhelmed by their emotions but were hesitant to discuss them. Listening actively will help you gauge their readiness to engage in the conversation. Respect their boundaries, as someone new to this topic may not be willing to share too much at once.

𝟱. 𝗢𝗳𝗳𝗲𝗿 𝗥𝗲𝘀𝗼𝘂𝗿𝗰𝗲𝘀 𝘁𝗼 𝗛𝗲𝗹𝗽 𝗧𝗵𝗲𝗺 𝗟𝗲𝗮𝗿𝗻 𝗠𝗼𝗿𝗲: Always provide resources that they can turn to if they ever feel lost or confused about mental health. Suggest books or recommend consulting a professional when necessary.

Starting a conversation about mental health does not have to be as difficult as it may seem. With the right approach, you can contribute to spreading awareness and providing support. Mental health disorders can be managed effectively with the right information, understanding, and communication.


In conclusion, Having a conversation about mental health shouldn’t be as tough as it is. With the right approach, you will be able to spread the gospel of its awareness without any worries. Mental health disorders aren’t life-threatening situations, and with the right information, you can get better.

It’s important to create an environment where individuals feel safe discussing their mental health and seeking the help they need.


Joyce Godswill
Show full profile Joyce Godswill

Mental Health Advocate, Child Psychologist, and Self-Love Guru.

  1. Now this is another eye opener shared here. Because this has been an issue of great concern especially in Nigeria.

    Thank you for sharing more light on how to go about this.

    You’re doing amazing ma’am, keep shinning your light.

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