What's on your mind? Help break the stigma around mental health

Asking for help is a sign of strength - it shows self-awareness and courage to seek support during difficult times!

This guide offers you some tips to help break the stigma around mental health difficulties, talk about mental health without reinforcing stereotypes and communicate your feelings better with your friends and family.


Starting a conversation about Mental Health

Mental Health illustration by Lilly Paez


Checking in on our loved ones is a great way to encourage someone to let you know if they are experiencing any mental health difficulties, or letting someone know you are there to listen.

But often it can be difficult to know what to say or do when you are worried about someone close to you or you feel they may be struggling or feeling isolated. You can start by letting them know that you’ve been thinking about them. 

Remember! It’s hard to help someone by yourself, but being a good friend is a great way to start. 

Don’t be afraid to speak to an adult or professional if you are worried about your friend or loved one. Try these conversation starters:

  • “I am checking in as you’ve been on my mind lately and I hope everything is ok. Let’s talk when you’re free, I’d love to catch up!” 

  • “What a year, right! How are you holding up? It has been a strange one for me, that’s for sure!”

  • “How are you, really? Sometimes I feel a bit overwhelmed, is it the same for you?”

Opening the conversation is already a great first step, well done! A few simple words of encouragement can help your loved ones feel comfortable opening up and asking for help if they need it. A great way to do it is to remind them that...

  • You are there for them, no matter what, and that you will help them in a way that they find comfortable. 

  • Mental health is just as important as physical health: you would tell a loved one if you sprained your ankle or had a headache, right?

  • Asking for help is a sign of strength.​​ Getting the right professional support and healing becomes easier when you share.

You can also access some extra tips through our U-Report chatbot. Enter to it by sending “TIPS” at: FacebookWhatsApp or Viber (more info in the video below).

U-Report chatbot
Would you like to learn more? Join U-Report and discover how to get recommendations in a Mental Health chatbot.

Tips for talking/writing about mental health

Mental Health illustration by Lily Paez

Young people all around the world are speaking out and breaking the stigma around mental health. 

Many of us are passionate about this topic but we are not necessarily experts or doctors... So how do we make sure we are talking about it in a way that prevents misinformation and encourages people to ask for help when they need it? 

We’ve created these tips to help guide your conversations or advocacy around mental health. 
1. Sources of information about mental health 
When you’re talking or writing about mental health make sure that you use reputable sources, like those from UNICEF or World Health Organization (WHO). Not all the information out there is accurate or up to date.

If you come across information that you feel is helpful or thought-provoking, take some time to check how it relates to reputable sources and how it relates to you and your peers.
2. Books, TV shows, social media and mental health
Mental health is a topic of many books, tv shows or social media accounts that are popular among young people. However, while these may be a very powerful way of raising awareness, sometimes they are not always accurate, and in some cases, they may send confusing messages.

If you’re talking about a book, tv show or social media account that deals with mental health, think critically about whether they portray the issues accurately (or not) and what might be missing.

You can also use them to stimulate discussion around the myths and stigma that can accompany the discourse around mental health.
3. Sharing personal experiences & describing what we see in others
The language we use to discuss mental health issues matters. Make sure you don’t use stigmatizing language or terms, or slang which can be commonly used to describe people who may have mental health difficulties.

Also, be careful when using medical terms like “depression” or “bipolar”. Unless you or someone you know has been diagnosed by a professional you should stick to describing symptoms rather than speaking about a specific diagnosis.

For example, it is better to say, “my friend is very anxious and is having trouble sleeping” rather than saying “my friend has depression”.

And remember not to talk publicly about someone’s health – including their mental health – unless you have their consent. It is okay to break this rule if you are worried that someone is in danger of hurting themself or others. You should not hesitate to tell an adult you trust right away.

Finally, you may want to think about adding a “trigger warning” for written content such as blogs, or social media.

These are often used to warn people that the content of a post is about a sensitive topic that some people might find upsetting, and which could be harmful to their wellbeing or remind them of difficult times they may have experienced in the past.

How to communicate our feelings

Illustration by Lily Paez, one of the finalists of our Youth Mediathon.

If we experience uncomfortable emotions most or a lot of the time, the healthiest thing we can do is to talk about what we're feeling with the people that we love. Doing so can help us to maintain our mental health and access support if we need to.

Here are some things you can try:

  • Write your feelings down. This can help you to describe your feelings to other people, particularly if you want to seek help. It might sound easy or simple but try this: “I feel _____ right now” or “I feel _____ when I _____”.

  • Paying attention to how you feel throughout the day in response to different situations. Do some situations make you feel happy? Anxious? Overwhelmed? Practice how you would tell someone what’s on your mind and what you need to feel better.

  • When talking about your feelings, use “I” statements as this helps you to take ownership and makes sure the other person does not feel judged. Try saying ‘I feel like I am not being heard, can I have a chance to say something?' instead of ‘You never listen to me!’. Or ‘I feel frustrated right now’ instead of ‘You are so frustrating!’

  • If you feel that the conversation is not going as planned, you may react impulsively. Here are some constructive ways to respond instead: Walk away or disconnect, waiting to talk until you feel calm. Take a few slow breaths and try your best to explain how you are feeling. 

  • When things feel too overwhelming to handle on your own, or you are worried about how you feel, or you are worried about someone else, your school, health facility, or other community services can provide important support.  If you don't know where to go, ask someone you trust or search online for support available in your country. It is very common to need help from time to time, and the people who can support you have seen many others in your situation.

Getting help

Illustration by Lily Paez, one of the finalists of our Youth Mediathon.
Illustration by Lilly Paez, one of the finalists of our Youth Mediathon.

When we are feeling anxious, stressed or worried, sometimes we can take small actions to help us through difficult times.  

You can learn more with UNICEF in this On My Mind portal or check out some extra resources at the end of this page that may be helpful.

However, there might be times when habits are hard to change or taking some positive actions may not be enough, and it is important to encourage people to ask for help. They could start by talking to someone like a trusted adult, or seeing a doctor and asking for guidance on who to speak to. 

There are a lot of different types of support available, and it can be hard to find the right help by yourself.   

When things feel too overwhelming and if you or someone you know regularly experiences symptoms or feelings that are negatively impacting your quality of life, studies, work, relationships, or ability to take care of yourself, it is important to ask for help or, in case of a friend, encourage them to seek help. 

Asking for help is a sign of strength - it shows self-awareness and courage to start to overcome something difficult and take the first step. Being healthy is the right of everyone, and this includes mental health as well as physical. 

This content was developed by UNICEF in collaboration with the Z Zurich Foundation. You can learn more about the UNICEF-ZZF partnership here. UNICEF does not endorse any company, product or service.