When it comes to mental health we certainly are a nation with a stiff upper lip. I often hear from people that there isn’t any point in talking about it, what good will it do, or there isn’t any stigma anymore.
Well, I disagree.
I firmly believe that talking to people, which for me was initially online in a group (such as our awesome Peer Support Group!), was the start of feeling both ‘normal’ and not alone. Both of which were key to me starting my path of acknowledgement and recovery.
So, how can you start the conversation? Whether that be about yourself or someone else, firstly pick your location. It’s often easier for people to talk in a place they already feel comfortable and that they won’t be overheard or judged by the people around them. Some people are naturally more open to talking about their mental wellbeing and others not, so don’t be surprised if the person you are talking to is not so forthcoming at first. It could be a wide range of reasons, for example, it could have resonated with them personally or they could be shocked that they hadn’t realised that anything was wrong. After a while, I often find that people start to open up and often share their experiences.
The next, but by far most important thing is to listen. Be open in your conversations, but with a person you trust, and make sure you feel heard. They may well have some good suggestions or have gone through something similar themselves. The official statistic is 1 in 4 people experience a mental health problem each year, but I think if they did this survey again now, it would actually be much higher. We are still a long way from conversations about mental health being as common as conversations about physical health. The best thing we can do is to talk to each other and educate the people around you about what it’s like living with anxiety/depression/bipolar or any other mental illness.
Try to be as understanding as you can – remember – what is extremely horrible for one, is not for another. For example, I’m petrified of heights. For me it’s unbearable, but some of my friends, it doesn’t bother them one bit, and they enjoy the adrenaline of it. In the same way for someone, getting up and dressed is a challenge and others it isn’t. Mental health by its nature is different for everyone and every individual’s experience will be different, so when you are talking or listening, try not to be judgmental and instead be supportive and understanding. Take each person as the individual they are.
Which ties in nicely to take yourself seriously and don’t allow people to make you feel bad or insignificant for how you feel. If you know what you need, ask for it and hopefully, you will be surprised by how willing to help people can be to help you.
My top tips to get talking:
- Pick a welcoming and comfortable location
- Chat informally as you would about anything else
- Be open with the right person/people
- Ask for help if you need it
- Don’t be embarrassed or feel bad. Remember it could happen to anyone at any time.
- Do your best, don’t be disheartened if the person you are talking to is quiet – they may be struggling themselves
- Talk, but also take time to listen to what others are saying.
My key phrases to avoid in conversation (these are guaranteed to get someone’s blood boiling):
- “It’s all in your head” – Really? Well yes, technically it is in my head where else would it be?
- “You’re just having a bad week” – No, probably not and even if I am, I might still want to talk about it.
- “Cheer Up/Smile/might never happen” – No! Just no! Phrases like this will not help anyone. Ever.
- “You don’t look ill!” – Not all illnesses are visible, just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Instead, try saying:
- “How are you feeling today?” – This opens them to say as much or as little as they feel.
- “How can I help you?” – There may be nothing you can do but its possibly one of the most important questions you could ask
- If you have your own experience with mental health, share it – this opens the conversation for others to do the same, and importantly, stops people feeling alone.
Remember you don’t have to have any prior knowledge to talk about mental health, you don’t have to be a psychiatrist or doctor, just be you and openly connect with another person. Talk in the same way you would anything else and be yourself!