Hi there. How are you doing?
To investigate our community’s attitudes around mental health, we recently released a survey surrounding mental health, attitudes to mental health and more. The results showed that whilst over 55.6% of survey respondents said that they felt comfortable talking about their mental health with their friends or family, they rarely do to avoid feeling like a burden.
11.1% of respondents, however said that they don’t feel comfortable at all. And that has to change.
In an attempt to change the narrative around mental health discussions and get the community clued-up about approaching discussions around mental health, advising how to have engaging conversations and encourage active listening techniques, we got in touch with Katie Strang, a mental health professional.
Talking about mental health can be hugely challenging. We understand. So, if you’re searching the internet for advice, answers, and everything in between, or wondering how to talk about mental health, how to talk to your parents about your mental health or maybe how to get someone to open up and have a mental health discussion with you, we hope these answers are beneficial.
Hi Katie! Thanks for chatting with us. Do you have any good conversation starters to use when opening a discussion surrounding mental health?
Because every person and situation is different, it can be difficult to come up with “go-to” conversation starters, especially when you are approaching a topic as complex as mental health. More generally, relationships built on openness and non-judgment provide a safe environment for such conversations to take place.
If a friend opens up to you about mental health, be mindful of both your verbal and non-verbal responses. What you say is important, but so is how you say it. Try not to interrupt. Provide the person with your full attention.
Avoid phrases like, “Don’t worry,” “It’s not a big deal,” “I’m sure it’ll pass,” or “It’s just a phase.”
While you may be trying to minimise the severity of problem, these types of phrases can make a person feel that their feelings are invalid or wrong.
Do you think that people should confide in their friends and family, or opt for professional, therapy-style options instead?
These options are not mutually exclusive but can serve different purposes. Confiding in one’s friends and family may result in feelings of increased support from loved ones. It is important to note that friends and family are more likely to offer advice or direct solutions to a problem. This can be helpful in some scenarios, but if you are experiencing significant concerns about your own mental health, you may wish to seek out the assistance of a trained professional.
Typically, therapy/counselling is more than advice or solutions to a single problem. Mental health professionals can provide you with tools and strategies to improve your overall well-being and mental health. It is important to note that assistance from a counsellor or therapist is not only for those who are experiencing significant mental health crises. Professionals can provide support in dealing with everyday stressors, coping with changes, or simply maintaining self-care, among many other things.
What is the best way to reach out to a friend that you haven’t heard from in a while, or are perhaps worried about?
This is a difficult one, as it is often still considered “taboo” to approach the subject of mental health. Sometimes, a simple text to let the person know that you are thinking about them can go a long way. The most important part about reaching out is reaching out. If a friend has been on your mind, let them know. Don’t wait for them to reach out, by assuming that they will say something if they need you.
How do you make someone feel comfortable to share their thoughts and feelings with you?
As previously mentioned, a friend will likely feel more comfortable to reach out if you have established a non-judgmental relationship. Such comfort probably won’t be built with a single phrase or cookie-cutter strategy.
Let the person know, through both your words and actions, that you care about them, that you are invested in their well-being, and that you are willing to be a source of support for them. If you know a friend or colleague is going through a difficult time, do not be afraid to reach out.
What are some of the core warning signs you should look out for when discussing someone’s troubles and worries, that could potentially indicate that they are struggling with their mental health?
While this is not an exhaustive list, some potential warning signs can include losing interest in preferred activities, sudden changes in appetite, weight, energy level, or sleep patterns, frequent/sudden mood swings, giving away treasured items, feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness, isolation or withdraw from friends and family, giving away treasured possessions, or evidence of self-harm (or talk of self-harm).
Again, this list is not meant to serve as a way to diagnose or identify mental health concerns and is not a complete list of possible warning signs.
Thanks so much, Katie. These responses have been hugely insightful. Finally, how do you manage your own mental health? Do you have any helpful tips, or any resources you could recommend?
Remember that your mental health is just as important as the mental health of those around you! Self-care consists of more than just engaging in hobbies, making time for yourself, and making healthy choices (although these things are important). Self-care also means setting boundaries, knowing your own limits and allowing yourself room to be imperfect.
A quick “how are you doing?” text, email, or coffee date can really go a long way. Never underestimate the impact or importance of a mental health discussion. They can make all the difference.
When setting out to start a conversation around mental health, avoid being judgemental. Listen, take your time and if you’re having the discussion with someone around their mental health, ensure that you are showing you understand their point of view. Ask open questions, don’t try and offer quick ‘fixes’ and make sure you are being respectful. Always.
Mental health resources and charities
No one deserves to feel down, alone, or to struggle.
If you, or someone you know is struggling, please don’t hesitate to take action. If you’re struggling for resources, or don’t know where to start when it comes to the many fantastic mental health charities, mental health apps and resources available, take a look at our list below.
Contact a professional
Contacting a professional is not as scary as it seems. We promise.
As always, when struggling with a health problem (mental health included), it’s important to contact your local GP. These medical professionals are well equipped to assist you or your loved one in all areas of mental health, and will approach the situation (no matter who, or what it is) with complete confidence and professionalism.