We were recently asked “How do you tell that someone is living with a mental illness” in regards to making sure people are in the right services and programs for help. Well our answer was simple…ASK. I know that sounds like a trick but it is honestly simple, ask someone. It will not come across like you are making fun of or talking down to your client if you ask. Be professional and ask the question straight, “Are you living with a mental illness?”
If you had to do a medical back ground how would you ask if someone is or has ever battled cancer? Think about that and ask your mental health question in that tone and delivery style. To end stigmas and further help someone, take the first step in asking the simple question.
Here are some easy questions to help get you started:
“I’m concerned about your health and well being … have you ever spoken to a therapist or
“Have you ever been diagnosed with a mental illness?”
“Have you ever been prescribed medication for your emotions or the way you were
“Have you ever been in a psychiatric hospital?”
“Have you ever made a suicide attempt?”
If they say yes to any of these, then talk about it more. If they say no, it doesn’t mean they haven’t had trouble with mental illness. Ask some very basic screening questions.
“Have you ever felt so low that you didn’t want to live?”
“Do you get angry easily? Do you feel like you’re not connected to other people?”
“Sometimes people use drugs or alcohol to help with sleep or emotional pain, have you ever
needed to do that?”
“Do you avoid places or people because they make you feel uneasy or anxious? Do you
often feel jumpy and on edge?”
“Do you have trouble with anxiety? Racing thoughts? Obsession?”
“Have you ever, in your life, heard people talking when no one was around?”
“Have you ever felt like you we’re being watched or followed? That people were trying to
Remember, if you’re not a doctor or therapist, use these questions simply to get the dialogue going. Let the other person do almost all of the talking. When speaking about very sensitive issues, always focus on establishing rapport and trust. Most times, the goal of the first conversation about mental illness is to have a second conversation.
Ask a Doc-Ask a Cop: The Mental Health Minute