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Mental health is something we all have, just like physical health. Our state of mental health can fluctuate from positivity, happiness, contentment, to feelings of stress, anxiety, or other challenges.
The reality is that according to Time to Change, around 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem this year. However, it’s been reported that only 36% of people dealing with mental health issues in the UK are receiving treatment, leaving nearly a high number of people with potentially untreated mental health problems.
These statistics highlight the importance of encouraging people to talk about any mental health concerns openly and honestly, with people they trust. This is, however, easier said than done, and many professionals dealing with anxiety, stress, or depression do not feel comfortable asking for help from their peers.
Additionally, friends and family who want to help can often struggle to find the words or feel unsure of how to talk about mental health. To help get the conversation going, we’ve highlighted a few different ways you can introduce the topic of mental health to a friend, loved one, or colleague.
7 conversation starters for talking about mental health
1. Try starting the conversation about something other than mental health
If you’re worried your friend might be less willing to accept support about a specific mental health issue, then start by simply checking in – ask them how they are, and how their work or social life is.
By primarily reaching out to catch up, you’re creating to space for your friend to share and receive the support they need. Starting out with a general, light-hearted topic of conversation can help to make your friend feel more comfortable about opening up.
2. Let them know you recognize that they’re going through a hard time
If you know your friend has been through a difficult time - maybe they are grieving, dealing with a problem at work or in their relationship, or have experienced a traumatic event - try acknowledging this in the conversation.
I.e. “I’m aware you’ve been dealing with a lot of pressure at work, how are you feeling?” They may be less willing to bring up uncomfortable topics or problems for fear of being judged, and so by acknowledging that they are going through a rough time, it can give them an opportunity to talk about it and feel at ease by your support.
3. Start by stating that you care
If you aren’t sure how you can help, just letting them know that you want to help is a positive way to get the conversation going. I.e. “I appreciate things are difficult for you at the moment. I want you to know that I care and I’m here for you, if there’s anything I can do to help you just let me know.”
It’s ok to feel like you don’t have the answers, and it might not feel like you are doing much. But it’s important to remember that if you’re not a mental health professional, the value of listening intently to someone who needs help ensures a fundamental human need is being met - you’re helping them to feel heard, appreciated, and valued. Dealing with mental health struggles can feel very lonely, so listening, giving the individual time and space, and simply stating that you are there for them can make a world of difference.
4. Offer your help and support
Sometimes dealing with mental health issues can feel all-encompassing, and even day-to-day tasks feel unmanageable.
If someone you know is feeling like this, consider starting the conversation by offering some practical help and support - whether that’s helping them to manage their day by going out to the shops for them, supporting a project, or running an errand. Small acts of kindness like this can make a huge difference to someone who is feeling overwhelmed and helps to lessen the pressure. You may even find these actions naturally lead to a conversation about how they are doing.
5. Avoid giving advice and focus on suggestions
While it might seem helpful to offer advice based on your own personal experiences, if you’re not a mental health professional it’s important to be mindful that it may not be appropriate to give advice. We all process our thoughts, feelings, and emotions in our own unique ways, so try to focus on suggesting options for support instead. I.e. “Are you aware of this charity (e.g. Mind) who offer lots of support - what do you think about taking a look at their website/giving them a call?” or “Have you considered talking to a professional about how you’re feeling?”
This gently eases the conversation into exploring options, and you’re showing the individual that they don’t have to remain feeling stuck, fearful, or overwhelmed, and they can access various support that’s available.
With this in mind, try to remain focused on their needs as opposed to talking about your own stories. There is of course a time and a place for sharing personal experiences, and it’s an act of kindness to choose to share your own vulnerability - just be mindful to come back to their story to ensure they feel heard.
6. Ask what you can do to help
Mental health can be a sensitive subject to talk about, so try to keep things simple by asking them open questions, such as “What can I do to help you?”
It’s important to remember that every person’s experience with mental health is different and there is no single fix that will help everyone. So by asking open questions, you’re empowering the individual to express how they feel and what they need.
Bear this in mind, particularly if talking about mental health feels new to you. Instead of offering what you think they need, simply ask them what would help them, and go from there.
7. Let them know you are a long term advocate
It’s unlikely you’ll be able to completely eradicate their issues - the state of our mental health can fluctuate and it is a journey we’re all on. Talking about any struggles is a powerful first step, as this can open the door to opportunities for further support, self-care, and recovery.
People often need time when going through mental health challenges, and one way you can honor this is by offering long-term support. I.e. “I’m here if you need to talk, whether it’s today, tomorrow, or another time that suits you."
Let them know you are a long-term advocate and will be there to support them in the weeks and months to come.
Get the conversation going with kindness
Talking can feel really daunting for individuals dealing with poor mental health, as well as their friends and family who want to show their support and help.
The most important thing you can do is to get the conversation going, and if you’re not sure what to say, we hope the above pointers can help you. Starting that conversation could make all the difference to your friend, loved one, or colleague who is struggling.
Remember to treat everyone’s experience with kindness and without judgment, always taking into account their wishes when it comes to offering support.
Original source: How to start a conversation about mental health illness