We all have mental health in the same way we all have physical health. Mental health is a scale and we all slide up and down that scale throughout our lives. A study by the NHS Information Centre for health and social care, found that approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. That was based on data collected in 2006/2007. I’d wager the true figure is actually much higher, in part because people now recognise what mental health problems are, and in part thanks to charities like Mind, Rethink Mental Illness and initiatives like Time to Change. Mental health is becoming more of a normal part of our vocabulary, although we still have a way to go.
Having suffered with depression and worked closely with people with a variety of mental health conditions (see I think I met Jesus) I have a good understanding of mental ill health. I have also made mistakes when it comes to my own mental health and continue to learn a lot about managing mental health effectively. So, without wanting to sound preachy, or like I’m the expert (because let’s face it, no one is) I thought I would put together some simple steps that might help you start a conversation with someone about their mental health.
How to start the conversation
It doesn’t have to be heavy! You don’t have to sit down and announce that “This conversation is going to be about mental health!” It can be as simple as asking someone how they are or opening up to a friend to say you’re having a shit time. The thing is to be open and remember that admitting if you’re struggling is the strongest thing you can do – it’s NOT a weakness.
How to be supportive
Listen. It’s that simple. The key to feeling better is being able to talk about what’s happening. It makes the person who is struggling feel less alone. You don’t need to be a counsellor or fix the problem, you just need to show that you are really there no matter what they tell you. If it’s you who is struggling, let that person support you. You would help them, so let them help you.
But what can I actually do?
If you’re anything like me, listening won’t be enough, you’ll want to help more than that. (Ok, I get it, but trust me you’re doing great by just listening). If you feel like it’s at the point your loved one might need professional support, suggest that they see their GP. It may be that the person needs talking therapy or medication. Don’t try and diagnose the person or tell them what they need, just suggest that seeing their GP could open up some options to help them manage their mental health better.
What if I say the wrong thing?
You won’t. Whatever you say, as long as it’s coming from a place of love, is fine. There are no perfect conversations or right or wrong ways of talking about mental health. If you’re the one who is opening up about a mental health problem, please don’t worry about “dragging people down” or that people might think you’re crazy. Firstly: You’re not. Secondly: if they really love you, they will be there for you even in your darkest times.
If your loved one has opened up to you, it’s because they trust and respect you and they want to talk about what they are struggling with. It’s OK for you to ask them how they feel at a later date. If they don’t want to talk about it in that moment, respect that, but remember they aren’t shutting down the conversation forever and they might want to revisit it.
Ta da! It’s fixed!
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that the issue will be “fixed” quickly, if at all and that’s OK. Lots of people live successfully with a long term mental health condition. It’s all about finding a way to manage the condition in a way that works for that individual. Talking about mental health isn’t just for when times are bad, it’s also important to talk about it when things are good. Helping the individual realise why things are good right now might help them identify triggers. It’ll also clarify what the person can do to maintain positive moments like these.
So yeah, it doesn’t have to be this big scary thing and the more we normalise this subject by addressing it, the better off we’ll all be. If you’re still unsure, visit Time to Talk for resources, information and guidance or drop me a message via any of the usual social media.