Time to Talk? Talking Tips
1 in 4 people will struggle with mental illness throughout their lifetime so it almost guaranteed that someone you love will be affected. Most of us want to be there for our loved ones when they are struggling but talking about mental health can be daunting and many of us struggle to know how to bring up the subject. Here are a few tips to making conversations about mental health easier:
Building an encouraging environment
The first, and possibly, most important thing about encouraging conversations about mental health (and anything else that makes a person vulnerable) is that support is not a one-off. If you want a person to be open with you about difficult parts of themselves, they need to feel like you are providing a safe space whenever they need it. The good news is it is quite easy to do this by talking openly about mental health whenever it is relevant. For example, you can talk about your own mental health, whether you are having ongoing trouble or just having a bad day. You can also talk positively about mental health stories you see in the news, about friends or about celebrities.
Starting the conversation
In an ideal world, your loved one would start the conversation about their mental health themselves but in reality, talking about mental health is likely even scarier for the person struggling – especially if its their first time opening up. Taking the first step and starting the conversation for them can often be really helpful. The key thing to remember when doing this is you cannot force someone to talk about their mental health if they do not feel ready, so its best to start simple.
Asking a question like, ‘how are you?’ or ‘is everything alright?’ may seem simplistic but it is a great way to encourage someone to open up – it is a really broad question so they can choose how open they want to be and it means you are not making any assumptions about what is wrong. If you feel someone is holding back, feel free to check in a second time to show your concern, but if they choose not to open up a second time, they may simply not be ready yet and that is okay too.
It is really important to remember when you are trying to support a loved one that you cannot fix them. Most people are not mental health professional, so your aim from any conversation about mental health should simply be to offer a safe space for your loved one to get things off their chest, process some of their own thoughts and feel less alone in their struggle. If they need a greater level of support, you can always encourage them to reach out for professional help. It is usually better to avoid offering advice unless you are specifically asked for it. Mental health is complex and everyone is affected in different ways, which means there is no one way for someone to recover, just because something worked for you or someone else, does not mean it will work for your loved one.
Be aware of your own limits
The other important thing when talking to people about mental health, is to be mindful of your own limits. It can be tough to hear the people we love talk about difficult topics and this can have a significant impact on us. When we are negatively impacted by another person’s distress, we call this second-hand trauma. Ignoring this can lead to burnout so it is important to regularly check in with yourself and set clear boundaries. It is okay to say no when you do not feel like you can offer any more support, the last thing your loved one will want is to make you feel worse.