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How to talk about mental health when you don't know what to say

A text, phone call, video chat or face to face conversation opens the door for your loved ones to get help with their mental health. It all starts with a check in.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — If you've noticed your loved one or coworker hasn't been acting like themselves, it's important to check in on their mental health. But, what do you say when you don't know how to start the conversation?

Sometimes all it takes is a simple message from a loved one to let out what you're dealing with mentally or to even start to seek help from a therapist. 

For reporter Katie Inman, she is among the 20 percent of the population in East Tennessee who needs mental health treatment. For her, treatment and therapy sessions help with diagnosed anxiety and depression.

Ben Harrington, the CEO of the Mental Health Association of East Tennessee described that 20 percent as about 200,000 people. That's enough to fill Neyland stadium twice.

"The important thing is you need to find ways to have the conversation and keep those doors open so you can have more conversation," Harrington said.

It's not always easy to notice when someone is struggling mentally. It's not as apparent as a cast or crutches might be for someone who broke a leg. Mental health illnesses are easy to disguise.

But how do you reach out to someone to check in when you don't know what to say?

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"Hey how are ya is not so bad as an opening, but you know what we're gonna get when we ask a closed-ended question, we're gonna get a very simple answer, and it's gonna be a 'uh.. okay. I'm alright. I'm fine.' But that doesn't really tell you enough," Harrington explained.

Harrington said it's important to pay attention to your loved ones' behaviors and bring up when they aren't acting like themselves in a non-judgmental way.

"I'm just saying, 'Hey, I'm not seeing the old Katie. Tell me what's really going on,'" Harrington said as an example. "Then [that gives] you that opportunity to talk a little bit and then say, 'Okay, well how can I help?'"

Not everyone will be willing to tell you exactly what is going on immediately, but keep offering your support. Saying something is better than nothing.

A text, phone call, video chat or face to face conversation opens the door for your loved ones to get help with their mental health. It all starts with a check in.

RELATED: Pandemic takes toll on mental health of young adults, poll finds

Harrington advised checking in regularly with your loved ones and coworkers. Do video calls or socially-distanced meetups where you can see how they're acting and what emotions they are displaying.

It never hurts to let someone know you are thinking about them and that they are not alone.


Mental Health Mondays is a weekly series at WBIR in partnership with Mental Health Associates of East Tennessee. The purpose is to encourage you to do weekly mental health check-ins and reach out to your loved ones.

We at WBIR are using this as a reminder to reach out to our loved ones too.

MHAET offers unique support in types of programs and services. It's an educational organization, providing the community with an array of programs. 

They offer a peer recovery mental health call center. It's a Judgement-free zone where the operators are extensively trained. 

The organization also offers free mental health screenings online so you can check in with yourself. It's free and anonymous. Only you get to see the results.

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