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It’s good to talk: How to have a conversation about mental health

Time to Change- the UK’s largest campaign to tackle mental health stigma- is encouraging everyone to have a conversation about mental health next week. But how might we do this?

People struggling with their mental health are often wary to speak out - will they be taken seriously? Judged? Thought less of? It’s not only those suffering who can find themselves hesitant to talk; friends and loved ones can shy away from the conversation too, perhaps for reasons such as:

  • Fear of saying something ‘wrong’ that will make it worse

  • Embarrassment or discomfort

  • Feeling unable to change or affect the situation in a positive way

  • Disbelief that mental health and its conditions are real

On the other hand, people may be willing to talk, but instead of listening dispense well-meaning advice; “why don’t you…” is tantamount to “you’re doing this wrong”, and criticism is not helpful in a conversation about a mental health.

Here are my suggestions for having an open conversation about mental health:

  • Listen, I mean really listen: Listening is an art and takes focus to avoid being distracted by our thoughts; step into the other person’s shoes- what must it be like for them?

  • You are not there to fix things: notice if you are offering ‘solutions’; are you thinking about what you would do in the person’s situation? This says more about you than about them!

  • Be compassionate not judgemental: we ALL have mental health as we do physical health. See the other person as a fellow human being, doing their best to negotiate the daily challenges of life.

  • Reach out: those struggling with their mental health may have withdrawn. Check in with them, let them know you are thinking about them and make yourself available.

  • Share, show your own vulnerable side: giving something of ourselves and sharing our own struggles can be a way to help others to speak about theirs. We live in a competitive world and people often compare how they feel inside (Insecure? Vulnerable? Afraid?), with how others appear to them on the outside (‘Coping’, ‘Successful’, ‘Confident’).

The more we collectively speak, the more we break down taboos and barriers surrounding mental health. So, however you do it, make a conversation about mental health.

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