How To Talk About Mental Health In 6 Different Languages

‘Self-care’ has become a major buzzword in the U.S. amid a burgeoning movement to destigmatize mental illness. Do other cultures discuss mental health as openly?
mental health around the world

“Self-care,” as a concept, has been around for quite some time in the grand scheme of mental health around the world. As the New Yorker points out, the entire notion that one must fill one’s own cup first goes as far back as Socrates. Most recently, it came back in the 1970s and 80s within queer and POC communities.

Activist Audre Lorde summed it up best when she said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Beyond being a tool meant to help activists combat burnout and exhaustion, it was noticed more and more that the most disenfranchised members of society frequently suffer from poor health, and so taking one’s wellness into one’s own hands was also a means of battling injustice.

The contemporary self-care movement carries a similar political overtone. For one, its resurgence went full-steam in the weeks following the November 2016 election. But self-care today has also been coupled with a growing movement to remove the stigma from mental illness. Part of that means educating each other about mental health disorders like anxiety and depression — sometimes by openly posting about it on social media. Another part of that means making it more okay to talk openly about invisible struggles, and to elevate mental health as an overall priority on par with one’s physical health.

America’s relationship with mental illness is somewhat unique, however. WHO data released in 2011 found that 27 percent of U.S. adults will experience some sort of mental health disorder over a 12-month period — more than any other country. The average American also has a 47.4 percent chance of experiencing some kind of mental health disorder over their lifetime. Of course, it’s not entirely easy to say whether Americans are really suffering from more mental afflictions, or whether they just happen to be more willing to admit it and seek help.

In many countries around the world, mental illness is still highly stigmatized, and the concept of mental health around the world is mostly limited to “light” topics like yoga and relaxation. For instance, in Switzerland, only 38 percent of people surveyed would hire someone who was mentally ill, and only 14.2 percent would let them babysit their children. The survey was part of a campaign launched in 2014 aimed at dismantling some of these taboos — the first national campaign of its kind.

In many Asian countries, the deep stigma around mental illness persists, and largely on account of traditional Asian values. A case study on China’s mental health situation underlined the notion that mental illness is seen as a form of punishment for the misdeeds of one’s ancestors, as well as a mark of shame on the entire family.

In England, at least, attitudes appear to be changing. Data collected between 1994 and 2014 shows that tolerance and acceptance of mental illness is on the rise. For instance, those who agreed that “we need to adopt a far more tolerant attitude toward people with mental illness in our society” increased from 83 percent in 2008 to 91 percent in 2014.

Ronald C. Kessler, professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, explained to Forbes that “personal fulfillment” is not a priority in developing countries, where people are simply focused on surviving. Forbes also notes that Americans have had more public education about what constitutes a mental disorder, and are therefore more likely to classify them differently than a place where one might be more expected to simply “pick themselves up by the bootstraps.”

Here’s a broad, general look at how six different countries approach the topic of self-care and mental health — and how they may or may not talk about it.


In Brazil, therapy is not a big taboo, and it’s available for free in public hospitals. It’s fairly normal to hear people talking about their therapy and recommending doctors and best practices to their friends.

You probably won’t hear people using a directly translated version of “take a mental health day,” however. In Brazil, the phrase “mental health day” evokes the Day Against Mental Hospitals, which is a day of protest against mental institutions held in May. There has actually been a strong movement against mental hospitals inspired by Brazilian psychiatrist Nise da Silveira. Instead, various approaches that offer more autonomy to mental patients have been gradually adopted.

I have a therapy appointment at that time. Can we reschedule?

Eu tenho terapia nesse horário. Podemos marcar para outro dia?

I need to take a mental health day.

Eu preciso descansar/relaxar.

I’m feeling overwhelmed. I think I need to cut back on my commitments.

Eu me sinto sobrecarregado(a). Eu acho que preciso diminuir os meus compromissos.

For me, self-care is:

doing yoga
staying home
cooking myself a meal
catching up on sleep
spending time in nature
getting pampered

Para mim, cuidar-se é:

fazer yoga
cozinhar uma boa refeição
dormir bem
passar um tempo na natureza e com quem eu gosto
ser bem-tratado(a)

I could really use someone to talk to right now.

Eu preciso muito falar com alguém agora.

Thanks for (listening/understanding/being supportive).

Muito obrigada por (me escutar/me entender/me apoiar).


Mental health is not discussed as openly in Germany. Rather, it’s something you would probably only talk about with your very close friends or family. For this reason, you might not hear people talking about their therapy appointments or asking for a mental health day — at least in a professional setting.

You also probably wouldn’t hear people openly admitting to the real reason why they’re not feeling well, assuming it’s something like anxiety or depression. If you’re talking to someone you don’t know very well, it’s more likely you would simply say “I’m not feeling well today.”

However, self-care has become an increasingly important topic, and the German health care system provides options for people who wish to take their wellness more seriously. Massages and physiotherapy are available by prescription, and insurance also partially covers expenses for certified yoga, pilates and other preventative health classes.

Don’t take it personally. I’m not feeling so well today.

Bitte nimm es nicht persönlich. Ich fühle mich heute nicht so gut.

For me, self-care is:

doing yoga
staying home
cooking myself a meal
catching up on sleep
spending time in nature
getting pampered).

Es tut mir gut:

Yoga zu machen
zu meditieren
zu Hause zu bleiben
schön zu kochen
in der Natur zu sein
mich verwöhnen zu lassen

I could really use someone to talk to right now.

Es täte mir echt gut, mit jemanden reden zu können.

Thanks for (listening/understanding/being supportive).

Danke fürs Zuhören.
Danke für dein/Ihr Verständnis.
Danke für deine/Ihre Unterstützung.


According to the WHO data mentioned earlier, France was one of the countries that came in close second to the United States in terms of its per capita rates of mental illness.

Mental health is largely considered to be part of one’s private life in France, however, making it less of an everyday conversation topic. It’s unlikely that you would mention a therapy appointment to a colleague or acquaintance, or be upfront about your struggles to someone you’re not very close to.

Here are a few things you might hear people say in France instead.

For me, self-care is:

doing yoga
staying home
cooking myself a meal
catching up on sleep
spending time in nature
getting pampered

Pour moi, prendre soin de soi c’est:

faire du yoga
rester à la maison
cuisiner pour soi
rattraper son sommeil en retard
passer du temps dans la nature
se faire dorloter.

It would make me feel good to talk to someone.

Ça me ferait du bien de parler à quelqu’un.

Thanks (for taking the time to listen/for your understanding/for your support).

Merci (d’avoir pris le temps d’écouter/de ta compréhension/pour ton soutien).


In Italy, too, mental health issues are not frequently discussed in public, especially if there’s a medical diagnosis involved. More often, it’s something you would talk about with your doctor or therapist, and only share with family members and close friends when there’s a need to.

Though younger generations are somewhat more open about this topic, it’s unlikely you would hear “therapy” or “depression” mentioned in a casual conversation. Instead, one might say that they have an “appointment” if they need time off from work, or tell their colleagues that they’re having a “difficult time” or “trouble sleeping” instead.

Still, self-care is considered to be a pretty important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle in Italy. Yoga, massages, fitness, home-cooked meals and relaxation are fairly popular, and are all discussed frequently.

Don’t take it personally if I seem a little off today. I’m having a difficult time lately.

Non prenderla sul personale se mi vedi reagire in modo strano. Ultimamente sto passando un momento difficile.

For me, self-care is:

doing yoga
staying home
cooking myself a meal
catching up on sleep
spending time in nature
getting pampered

Per quanto mi riguarda prendersi cura di se stessi significa:

fare yoga
stare a casa
cucinarsi qualcosa di buono
recuperare sonno
passare del tempo nella natura
concedersi qualche coccola

I could really use someone to talk to right now.

Avrei davvero bisogno di qualcuno con cui parlare in questo momento.

Thanks for (listening/understanding/being supportive) in this difficult moment.

Grazie per (avermi ascoltato; capito; avermi supportato) in questo momento difficile.


Spanish culture is similar to French, German and Italian culture: it’s not common to hear people talking openly about depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder outside of your inner circle.

There’s also a belief among some Spaniards that depression and anxiety are not serious illnesses, and the prevailing approach of the health care system is to prescribe antidepressants and only send the patient to a psychiatrist if they express suicidal tendencies or lapse into chronic illness. There’s an overall lack of therapists, and it’s relatively expensive to see one.

Rather than let someone know that you have a therapy appointment, it’s more common to simply refer to it as a “doctor’s appointment,” or say that you’re “having a hard time.”

I need to take a day off.

Necesito tomarme un día libre.

I’m feeling overwhelmed. I think I need to cut back on my commitments.

Últimamente estoy un poco agobiado/a. Debería dejar algunas cosas y descansar más.

For me, self-care is:

doing yoga
staying home
cooking myself a meal
catching up on sleep
spending time in nature
getting pampered

Para mí cuidarse de sí mismo/a significa:

hacer yoga
quedarse en casa
dormir más
pasar tiempo en la naturaleza
mimarme y dedicarme tiempo

I could really use someone to talk to right now.

Necesito hablar con alguien.

Thanks for (listening/understanding/being supportive).

Gracias por (escuchar/tu comprensión/tu apoyo).


In Sweden, it would also be unusual to openly discuss mental health with your colleagues, and “mental health days” are not really a thing.

According to a 2011 study regarding Swedish attitudes toward mental illness, a not-insignificant part of the Swedish population perceives those with mental illness as unpredictable and potentially dangerous, and they are 10 times more likely to be portrayed as a violent criminal on prime-time television.

However, people might ask for a break — or a bit of understanding — in a slightly less direct way.

I’ve got a doctor’s appointment then. Can we reschedule the meeting?

Jag har en läkartid då. Kan vi boka om mötet?

I need to take a day off.

Jag behöver ta ledigt en dag.

I’m feeling overwhelmed. I think I need to cut back on my commitments.

Jag är helt slut. Jag tror att jag måste dra ner på mina åtaganden.

Don’t take it personally if I seem a bit down today. I haven’t been feeling that well lately.

Ta det inte personligt ifall jag verkar lite nere idag. Jag har inte mått så bra den senaste tiden.

It does me well to:

do yoga
stay home
cook myself a meal
catch up on sleep
spend time in nature
get pampered

Jag mår bra av att:

stanna hemma
laga mat
vara ute i naturen
bli bortskämd

I could really use someone to talk to right now.

Jag skulle verkligen behöva prata med någon just nu.

Thank you for (listening/understanding/your support).

Tack för (att du lyssnar/att du förstår/ditt stöd).

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