This is part of our blog series written in conjunction with our lovely corporate partner, InterQuest Group, across Mental Health Awareness Week 2018.
Trigger warning: This article mentions self-harm and suicide.
Sorry, this isn’t a guide to social anxiety! But, what happens when someone you know discloses to you that they have a mental health problem? It can be a sudden and real shock, especially if you’ve never had any experience of it yourself – it can end up being quite scary!
Here are some tips on what to do when someone does talk to you about their mental health:
Feel privileged. If they’re able to open up to you – it means that they trust you. It’s scary talking about mental health, as you’re not sure who’ll respond in a negative way – and once you’ve been burned, the last thing you feel like doing is talking about it again.
Be honest. It’s okay not to be okay – but also – it’s okay to be okay! It’s something that not everyone will experience, so if you can say that you’ve not experienced it, that’s fine! But, don’t make up experiences if you haven’t experienced them. Nobody should begrudge you for feeling good!
Be non-judgemental. Topics such as self-harm and suicidal thoughts are extremely difficult to talk about, as the thought of actually harming yourself in some deliberate, physical way, to most, is completely alien. Yet to those who do have the compulsion, it can be a way that they can actually control the dark, evil thoughts in their mind. Similarly, with suicide and suicidal thoughts, it can be seen as a very selfish, self-centred act, where the person is only thinking about themselves. However, the person who is feeling those feelings may well have a deep belief that they are a burden, that they are truly worthless and maybe, the world is actually better off without them.
Be patient. It’s really difficult to vocalise some of the thoughts that you’re having internally. Sometimes the feelings that you get, there just isn’t the right word to describe it, especially if you know the person hasn’t experienced it. Explaining that is really difficult – there may be long pauses, or just quiet patches. But that’s okay – let the person think about what they want to say. Sometimes, it’s just waiting for them to be able to get the courage to speak about what’s bothering them.
Just listen. Sometimes, the person doesn’t want advice, or necessarily want to know how to rid themselves of what’s troubling them. Just the chance to open up and be honest about the demons in your brain is so refreshing – and being able to talk openly about things is so cathartic. There’s no need to offer hints and tips if you don’t feel able to – sometimes, that can actually do more harm than good!
Honour confidence. It takes a lot to speak up about mental health. Don’t go and spread it around like the latest gossip, as the person may never actually want to speak up again. This is extremely damaging and hurtful. The only exception to this rule is if you believe they are in serious danger – when you absolutely should speak to a trained person, the police, or a medical professional.
Look after you too. It can be tough listening to someone close to you in distress – it can be tough listening to anyone in distress! It’s really important that you are able to have someone to talk to yourself – the last thing anyone wants is to end up making someone else ill through the stress. Make sure you take some self-care after anything big, allow yourself to relax – think of it as going to the gym after eating a huge chocolate fudge cake!
Importantly, on behalf of anyone who is willing to listen, I’d like to thank you. It is so, so helpful to have people around who will genuinely listen.
This is important. If you are struggling with feelings of self-harm or suicide at the moment, please check out crisis page out and please get some of the help that you truly deserve.