Mental health is something that we all have, and it is how we measure the state around us.
We can experience vast changes in our lives, but if the issues we face cause so much stress and distress, then it becomes a mental health issue.
If a mental health issue takes over a person’s life to the point where it affects their work, relationships and overall outlook on life, then it becomes a mental illness.
Talking about mental health at these different stages can help break the stigma around mental health and prevent a person from reaching a crisis point.
YET, how to talk to someone about their mental health or starting conversations about mental health is not simple. This is because, when someone is going through a tough time, there is no straightforward way of knowing whether they have a mental health problem or issue.
BUT, you do not have to find out whether they have a mental health issue, all you need to do is to make them aware that you are sensitive to what they are going through and there to support.
While we juggle the demands in our own personal lives, the social work role can affect our state of mind because of the complexity of cases we work on.
As a result, it is vital that we pay attention to our mental health and those of friends, colleagues and family members.
FACT: The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) highlights that 1 in 6 people experienced a common mental health problem such as anxiety or depression in the past week.
How to Start Conversations About Mental Health
With 1 in 4 people experiencing a mental health problem this year alone, if a friend or family member says they are fine, don’t just walk away! To really find out, you should ask twice.
These simple steps and tips can help you when starting a conversation around mental health:
1. Understand your own mental health
We can all appreciate some degree of negative impact on our own overall well-being with the current advice on self-isolation and social distancing.
The current situation can affect anxiety levels and reinforce negative thoughts resulting in subsequent low moods.
Sadly, many of the usual things that can be done to help manage our mental health are restricted. For instance, traveling abroad, going to the cinema, and meeting up with friends.
However, there are still some activities we can incorporate to help improve our mood. For instance, going for long walks, baking, home exercises, and having conversations with friends and families online.
Talking can be a great help to someone who is feeling emotionally down, suicidal or having anxiety, but it may cause you some distress. Also, starting a conversation may also bring up difficult things you may not have spoken about yourself.
That is why, before starting conversations around mental health, you need to check in with yourself first and make sure you are in a good place to start a conversation about someone else’s mental health.
If you are struggling with your own mental health, talk to someone about your feelings either in person or online.
2. Take it seriously
Stories and case discussions related to mental health can help start a discussion.
Many people are still ignorant of mental health and don’t treat it seriously because it’s not visible, however, it can be the biggest obstacle to people progressing in life.
Having a conversation with someone around their mental health may encourage them to talk about their challenges and accept some support.
3. Ask questions
Asking simple and gentle questions can help people ‘dump’.
You need not have all the right questions or expect all the right answers, it’s about the opportunity to have a conversation and the support you give through talking.
Remember not to get too personal and be conscious if the discussion is making someone feel uncomfortable.
You may want to ask questions like;
“Did you have a pleasant weekend?”,
“How is your family?”
“How is your day going”
“How are you feeling”
“Have you had something to eat?”
“What did you get up to on the weekend?”,
“How are you?”
4. Find the right time
To some people, mental health is still a taboo subject, so find out whether it is the right time to speak to someone.
If you learn to cultivate the skill of knowing when to hold your tongue, you will always become wise.
I find it better to always ask the person whether it is the right time to talk to them.
You can ask, ” Will you be comfortable if we arranged a time to sit and have a chat about anything?”
5. Find the right place
Finding the right place to start a conversation around mental health is important.
For example, having a conversation in public may make the person feel worried about other people judging them.
Also, it can make the person feel embarrassed, hold back and make their situation worse.
Be open and honest and do not make the person feel pressured to share anything they are not comfortable with.
By being open about how you feel or sharing personal experiences can show you’re the kind of person who’s prepared to empathise and listen.
For example: “I didn’t have a great weekend to be honest, how about you?”
“I felt low earlier today, how are you doing?”
“I’m not feeling great myself today, if I’m honest. How’s your day going?”
7. Build your knowledge
Educating yourself around mental health can help you support others more effectively.
Your own personal experiences can help you relate to what the other person is going through with their mental health.
With some knowledge, you can direct the person to local services or agencies that specialise in mental health.
For example, MIND provides a lot of useful information that can help you gain a deeper understanding and insight into mental health issues.
8. Think about the best way to respond
If someone is finding things difficult, accept that you cannot fix everything.
BUT you can help them along the way and empower them.
Think about what they need now and what can help them overcome any challenges they are facing.
Ask them what you can do to help and discuss options.
Be careful not to make promises or raise their hopes unless you are absolutely certain they can be met. This is because it will be unfair to give false hopes.
9. Encourage action
Do you have any tips or ideas on how you maintain your own well being? Perhaps you go for a run, long walks, or practice self-love in order to relax or de-stress.
If you do, it will be a good idea to share them with the person. You can find useful tips from this article on 57 Powerful Ways to Practice Self-Love and Be Happy.
You can also find out from the person if they have any activity as part of their routine to help them distress.
For example, “I had a catch up online with an old classmate last night, and I found it really helped me switch off from my chaotic weekend. What do you do when your weekend isn’t going so great?”
“I went for a run yesterday and listened to an audio book, I found it really helped me switch off from work. What do you do to switch off from work?”
Remember to check in and talk with the person after a few days. This is to find out how they are doing, or perhaps you have some additional information to share with them which may help them on the road to recovery.
If you feel that something isn’t right but you can’t put your finger on why, we recommend that you encourage them to speak to their GP.
11. Take action now
Do not leave it too late.
Start a conversation now!
Before you go
Everyone has faced one form of mental health condition or the other.
We all experience good and bad days, negative thoughts, intrusive thoughts, confused state of mind, wanting to give up on life, feeling exhausted, having low self-confidence, loss of interest in activities, tiredness, loss of appetite, tearful, nervous and in some situations feeling suicidal.
Stress, anxiety, and depression lead to other mental health problems if they are not recognised, diagnosed or treated in time.
It’s hard to tell if a person has mental health problems unless they break down in front of you or to tell you themselves.
Mental health conditions don’t always leave scars, not always, and it is difficult to see how bad it is if you can’t see the scars.
Finally, when someone has a mental health condition, they are still human!
When a friend, colleague or loved one opens up about mental health, they do not want to be treated any differently. If you want to support them, keep it simple. Continue to engage and do the things you would normally do with them.
Speaking up, seeking and receiving help from people who care, is key to a better future.
Finding out how to talk to someone about their mental health can put the person on the path to recovery.
If you know someone who is going through a tough time, if you have even the slightest doubt, reach out to them and do not assume everything is OK.
Have you recently reached out to a friend or loved one about mental health? How did the conversation go?
11 Outstanding Tips on How to Start Conversations About Mental Health
- Understand your own mental health
- Take it seriously
- Ask questions
- Find the right time
- Find the right place
- Be open
- Build your knowledge.
- Think about the best way to respond.
- Encourage action
- Check in
- Take action now
References and useful resources
- Samaritans offers a listening service, which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI – this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- Huffingtonpost – Information on how to kick-start conversations around mental health
- Time to Change – information and advice on mental health issues.
- MIND – Mental health support services at a local centre near you.
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line, which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm).
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