How to talk about mental health

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- 1 in 5 Americans experiences mental illness in a given year, according to the CDC.

Yet, finding the right words to talk about mental health challenges can be difficult for many.

Action News asked Central Valley experts how people can talk about their own mental health and how to support others who share their challenges with you.


Executive Director of NAMI Fresno

I am a mom. I'm a woman of faith. And I'm the executive director with the National Alliance of Mental Illness Fresno.

I didn't work in the mental health profession or a social work environment prior to coming to this organization. I was a banker for a little over 20 years. My education is in business. If you would have asked me about eight years ago if I ever thought I'd be working in this field or if I had any mental health challenges myself, I would've told you 'absolutely no way! You're the crazy one.'

I was invited to come to this organization to help this organization to elevate its presence in the community. When I heard the organization's name, National Alliance on Mental Illness, I thought, well I can't connect with anybody there, I don't have any of that in my life or my family. So what would I be able to do? The person who invited me was a friend and really encouraged me that I could contribute to this organization. I thought, well I'm not working. I should probably do something more than lay in bed for many days at a time, buried under the covers, isolated from people.

So I said, 'Okay, let me check it out and see what it is. And in doing that I jumped in to learn about the organization and what our programs and resources are and what our services are. And things started to connect and I realized, wow, my life is impacted by mental health challenges, there are people that are very close to me, that live with untreated mental health issues, and those are impacting my life deeply. Only, I didn't have words or language for that.

We operate a helpline and I wanted to know as much about mental health as I could possibly know with our organization so I sat in a session that was titled major depression, thinking I was going to help others with that knowledge. There was a slide up on the screen in the front of the room, and it had signs and symptoms of major depression. As I was reading those points, I identified with every single one of them, that's me on the screen you should just have my picture up there. And I realized I needed to do what I was encouraging everyone else to do. I needed to actually find resources to help me with my mental health.

My first dark period started at the age of 18. There was not a lot of encouragement about getting help. As a matter of fact, I was told, please don't tell anyone that that's what you've experienced. It'll bring some concern to the family, and my family did not tell me that, others around me told me that. So I didn't speak up and get any help.

But then, typical life events that one may experience happened again later on in life. I wasn't using healthy coping skills. I stopped working out. I stopped eating well, I stopped sleeping well. I was feeling hopeless, desperate, and trapped. I felt no way out of those situations. I was making statements about not being here tomorrow and being a burden to others, and nowhere in my language did I use words to be direct with someone's telling them that I was thinking about suicide or killing myself. But that was my thought process. There's a big myth in asking and having a conversation with someone if they're thinking about suicide, that it'll give them that idea. And it doesn't, that actually opens the door for an opportunity for a safe conversation for someone.


"Hey, I've noticed that you've not been around and normally you've been part of our activities. I also noticed that you seem to have a change in your personal appearance. Also realize that you've been missing work a lot or you've been missing school a lot, and I just wanted you to know I'm concerned because I care. Is there something you'd like to talk more about? Have you thought about connecting to resources, professional help, or other trained individuals?"

"I care about you and you don't have to go through these next steps alone. I'd like to help you navigate that if you'll let me do that."

"If someone is experiencing signs of suicide warning signs of suicide, we need to respond immediately and we need to be very direct, and the question needs to be are you thinking about suicide."

"A great way to open the door for someone to let them know you recognize they're struggling is to be specific about what you're concerned with. if the response is 'no, how could you think about that with me, I'm just having a bad time right now, I'm really struggling.' My response is, 'I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to offend you. My hope is that you recognize that you have support, that I wanted you to know you're not alone. Others who've experienced times like this and made statements that you've been making about not being here tomorrow, or no one caring if you were gone, those are warning signs for me to listen for, and I want to make sure you know that there are resources to help you through this period of time."


"We can't force people to do things that they're not ready to do or not comfortable with. We have to take that into consideration. There's a whole lot of components to opening up and talking about your mental health and the challenges that you may be experiencing. Sometimes it's a cultural component, it's a personal preference. Sometimes there may be just different barriers. But planting seeds are so very important and making sure those individuals know that they're not alone, that you're available to talk if they change their mind.


Kings View caseworker

I think I was probably anywhere between nine and 11 when I first had my first panic attack. I thought it was an asthma attack so my dad took me to the ER, and it turns out I was having my first panic attack. I got services for a while as a kid and then I was able to kind of get that under control. Fast forward to adulthood, I started having panic attacks again and it became like an everyday thing.

I was really withdrawn and I didn't fully comprehend what was happening to me. Part of me was refusing to believe. I would go into the ER so many times and they would just refer me to mental health. I would just push it off and say no, I'm not crazy. And that was a stigma that I had within myself.

This was ironic because mental health is where I volunteered in high school. I was somebody who pushed mental health awareness. I just didn't really know what to do. I locked myself up in my room for a really long time, lost a lot of weight. It wasn't until I went to the ER 13 times thinking it was something else. I was finally able to enroll in services again.


Validate what they're feeling. Listen to them and try to help them think positively.

Challenge some of their thoughts that they're telling you. I would get really negative thoughts and they would just kind of take over my mind.

A lot of the time, the thing that didn't help was somebody who's telling you to 'snap out of it. Stop it.'


Kings View CEO and clinician


Are they sleeping too little or too much? Are they no longer doing things they used to love to do? Another sign would be unexplained aches and pains. A lot of people do what we call somatization. Things like headaches, stomach aches, things that may have no biological or physiological cause, but there's a mental health component to it and they're internalizing that.

Are people using substances more than they used to? Or did they never use substances and now they're drinking and they're smoking?

All of us whether we have a mental health diagnosis will have a mental health challenge at some point in our life.


You may have to go to one, two, or three clinicians before you're like, this is the person that is going to help me this is the person that's going to walk alongside me and support me. And until you feel that they're the right person to help you or to or to support you, don't share everything about yourself. I think that sometimes if we do an emotional dump with someone we just met, we leave the appointment and we feel completely exposed and vulnerable.

Mental illness is not something to be shamed. It's not something to judge somebody for, it's something to support people with.


Kings View

National Alliance on Mental Illness Fresno

Fresno Survivors of Suicide

If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Other crisis services and supports:
Crisis Text Line: Text 741741 - for free, 24/7 mental health support and crisis intervention via text message.
Text "NATIVE "to 741741 so the crisis text counsel is prompted with a fact sheet/resource tips to help in tribal communities
Text "STEVE" to 741741 so young people of color can be connected to a trained and culturally competent crisis counselor
Disaster Distress Helpline: 800-985-5990 (multilingual) - free, confidential 24/7 hotline for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster
TrevorLifeline: 866-488-7386 - crisis intervention and suicide prevention phone service available 24/7 for LGBTQ youth community
TrevorText: Text "START" to 678678 - 24/7 crisis support services to LGBTQ young people

Other resources include:
AAKOMA Project resource page for BIPOC youth, young adults and families: AAKOMA Project
BEAM's resource page for the Black community: BEAM
Copyright © 2022 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.